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

Reference Question of the Week – 4/25/10

   May 1st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Light bulb going on over headI know I'm late to the party on a lot of things. Sometimes I'll even know about the party, but it just doesn't occur to me to show up - until it suddenly does.

I don't mean to be cryptic - I'm just trying to be creative about to introducing you to my stupid side.

This week's reference question is one that I've been asked occasionally since the late 1990's (way before my library days). The question is this:

How do I get a list of the names of all of the file that are on my disk?

In Windows, I had never found a good way to do this, which meant either using a screenshot, or typing out all of the file names, or, on each file, Right-click > Rename then highlighted the text and Copy. I think other OS's, even DOS, do a better job of this, but or public workstations are limited to Windows.

But when a patron asked me this question this week, this very obvious workaround popped up out of nowhere: just browse to that disk using an internet browser.

When we plugged her flash drive into the computer, the contents of the drive popped up in a Windows Explorer window. I right-clicked on the Address bar and copied the directory path:

Files on Flash Drive

Then I pasted that path into Firefox's address bar and hit Enter (this will work for any directory, folder, floppy disk, CD, etc.). The contents of the flash drive were displayed, and I could highlight and copy the file names:

Files in Firefox

In this case, the patron wanted to paste the list into an email message, so I pasted them into Notepad to show them below:

Files pasted into Notepad

She had to delete the "File:" that was tacked on to the beginning of each file name, and I think she deleted some of the file details. This was much better than having to retype all of the file names, so she was happy about it.

I have no idea why this never occurred to me before - I guess this question can be filed under "eureka" and crossed-referenced under "d'oh."

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Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/09

   January 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

worderror1We can learn a lot from our patrons.

One of our regulars spends most of his time surfing the internet and then copy/pasting things he likes from web pages and email messages into Word files. He carries around four or five flash drives, and his Word documents can sometimes be 200+ pages long.

And of course, he runs into problems. He called me over the other day, because he was seeing an error when trying to open one of his files. I had never seen it before, but (surprisingly) it gave very clear instructions on how to fix the situation - using something in Word that I had never noticed before.

The problem is that, when he copies things from a web browser, Word doesn't just copy the text and images. Word copies all of the underlying HTML code, too, and tries to recreate the tables. The chance of copying all of the necessary code is very slim, so when the file is saved and reopened, Word says the tables are corrupt.

worderror2But so far, Word's built-in "Open and Repair" option has worked every time. I find it annoying that Word tries to handle HTML, but at least they included a fix for it - I wonder how many other problems this can fix. And I wonder what other useful gems lie undiscovered (by me)

After I walked through this with the patron, he's been able to do it himself, and is very happy.

But the real fix might be to install the Copy Plain Text add-on for Firefox on our public computers and show him how to avoid the problem all together.

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