or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Reference Question of the Week – 4/1/12

   April 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Sleep modeOne night this week, a father brought his eight year old daughter to the desk, along with her new laptop and Nook Touch, and asked that I show her how to download ebooks. This was, hands down, the most interesting ebook instruction I've ever given.

Happily, everything went smoothly - usually the biggest hurdle is actually finding an ebook the patron is interested in downloading, but in this case, there were quite a few kids books that caught her eye (she struggled to decide between Junie B. Jones Has a Peep in Her Pocket and Barbie and the Three Musketeers).

We checked out and downloaded one, but when it came time to transfer it to the Nook, the father realized that he had left the Nook's cable out in the car. The daughter stayed at the desk with me while he ran out to get in. While we were waiting, I asked the girl if she had any homework to do that night.

She said she had expanding math to do, which they were just learning and she really didn't understand. I told her I had never heard of "expanding math" before (which was true), and asked her if she could show me. We got some scrap paper and a pencil, and the practice problem she came up with was 104 - 57. She explained it as she worked it out, and when she was finished the paper looked something like this:

104 = 10090 + 0 + 14    
- 57 = 0 + 50 + 7    

    90 + 0 + 7    
        50        
        40 + 7 = 47

This seemed slightly over-complicated, but I was able to follow her, and she actually explained it quite well. I had just never heard it called "expanding math," I guess. But when her father came back, his reaction made me laugh. He just stared at the paper, and commented that he's never seen her doing homework like that.

Anyway, cable in hand, we were back to ebooks. We plugged in the Nook, transferred the ebook with no problem, and they were delighted to see the text and pictures on the Nook's color screen. They went through the whole process again, this time downloading Go, Dog. Go! for her little brother, and again, everything worked smoothly.

The dad reminded the girl that she had homework, and said it was time to go. He started putting the Nook away, and told her to pack up the laptop. When she clicked Start > Shut Down, I overheard this exchange:

Father: Oh, you don't need to shut it all the way down, just put it to sleep.
Daughter: I don't like putting it to sleep.
Father: Why not?
Daughter: [leaning over and whispering] Sometimes it has bad dreams.

Again, a puzzled look on the dad's face, but mixed with a little humor, because it was a random and funny comment.

After they finished packing everything up, the only thing left on the desk was the scrap paper with the girl's math problem on it. The dad picked it up to take with him, saying,

Father: Come on, it's time for you to teach me how to do your homework.

And they walked away from the reference desk holding each other's hand.

All in all, this was one of the most ridiculously saccharin slice-of-family-life scenes I have witnessed at the library. The bad dreams comment kind of bothered me, but hopefully they will bond while doing her homework together.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 1/1/12

   January 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

As we have come to expect over the last couple years, the first few weeks after the Christmas holidays means a rather dramatic spike in the number of questions about ebooks. The effect this year seemed more profound that usual, which led me to this conclusion:

Tweet: I think "how do I download ebooks?" has just surpassed "where is the bathroom?" as the #1 reference question #timestheyareachangin

This year, my library planned a program on using ebooks with library resources for the first Saturday in January. The plan was for me to talk about Overdrive, and give live downloading demos for a Kindle, iPad, and Nook. Also, we invited a sales associate from the local Radio Shack to come talk about the non-library aspects of ereaders - buying ebooks, the differences between the devices themselves, and hopefully answer a few hardware tech support questions.

Our meeting room is big enough, and ereaders are small enough, that I didn't think just holding one up would really help people in the back see which buttons to press. I got the idea of using a camera, pointed at a Kindle or Nook, to project what I was doing to it up on a screen, to make it more visible. I have a little external webcam that I plugged into a computer, and clamped it so it's pointing straight down at a table (where the ereader will sit). Then I found this software called FSCamView which does nothing but take the feed from the webcam and display it full-screen on the laptop. Then, plugging the laptop into a digital projector shows whatever I put in front of the webcam up on the big screen. How could that go wrong?

And since my library is lucky enough to have two digital projectors, I also plan to have a second computer to project the Overdrive catalog. This way, hopefully, people (even in the back) will be able to watch me search the Overdrive, checkout an ebook, download and transfer it to the ereader, and simultaneously see it actually show up on the device.

Here's what the setup looked like 20 minutes before we started:

Presenting with two screens

We presented from the podium in the right corner. Slides (and websites) on the computer were projected onto the wall in the center by our in-the-ceiling projector, and the webcam/projector/ereader setup was on a little table next to the podium, projecting onto the screen on the left side of the photo - you can see an iPad up there now.

It worked well enough for our purposes, and I think people were happy to (sort of) see what we were doing. The problems we had were that the camera wasn't very high resolution, and the lighting was tricky - not to mention glare off the devices.

Even still, the program was a huge success. We had over 100 people in the room (which seats 80), and had to turn people away. On the spot we decided to hold a repeat program in a couple weeks for all the people who couldn't attend this one. I think everyone learned something, and many said that after seeing the steps it takes to download ebooks from Overdrive, they now understand and can do it themselves. Yay for that.

I'm going to keep fiddling with the webcam/projector setup, because there's got to be an easy way to improve that. Then it'll be fun to think of other programs that might benefit from projecting physical objects up on the wall. Hmm.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



Reference Question of the Week – 12/11/11

   December 17th, 2011 Brian Herzog

There's a Party in My Pantry coverThere isn't actually too much to this week's question, but it kept making me laugh.

The phone rings Friday morning, and an an elderly woman's voice asks,

Patron: Hello, can you help me find a book?
Me: Sure, what's the title?
Patron: There's a party in my pant...

At this point she paused for a second. And now remember, this is coming from an elderly woman - which is conflicting with the usual Anchorman association to that phrase. But then she continues.

Patron: It's a cookbook - oh yes, the title is There's a Party in my Pantry. Do you have it?
Me: [checking the catalog] No, it doesn't look like we do. But let me search online to verify the title.

I search Amazon and find that it's only available as a Kindle book. Just to be extra sure it's not actually a print book too, I search WorldCat, which has no matches.

Me: I'm sorry, it looks like that hasn't been published as a printed book, only as an ebook.
Patron: How can you tell?
Me: Well, I searched for it on Amazon, and it only shows a Kindle version, not a print version.
Patron: [pause] Oh. Can I use that on the Nook too?

That line surprised me a little bit - it shouldn't have, but I was still thrown off by the pants party thing. But anyway, I quickly searched Barnes and Noble's website and found that yes, there is a Nook version. I searched our Overdrive catalog, but unfortunately we didn't have it there.

So I told the patron there was a Nook version available for purchase. We talked a little more about why it was only available as an ebook and not a print book, why it cost only $2.99, and what she would need to do to read it. She seemed satisfied, but did mention she was going to ask her son to buy it for her (which again made me laugh, because I'm immature and the image of this mother-son exchange makes me giggle).

I'm sure it's just the time of year, but this was the first of about ten ebook questions that day - mostly "here's my Kindle, now how do I download to it?"



Tags: , , , , , , ,