January 16th, 2016 Brian Herzog
My library subscribes to OCLC's QuestionPoint service, which is a 24/7 chat reference resource our patrons can use anytime. We've had this for years, and it's been great - not only being able to offer patrons 24-hour assistance, but also the quality of the answers they get is just as good or better than they would have gotten from our staff.
Every month I total up our database usage stats, and also read the transcripts of the chat questions asked. Sometimes though, when the chat librarian can't answer the question for whatever reason, the chat librarian flags it as "followup by local library" and I'm notified by email that a patron needs more help.
One of these followup notification emails was waiting for me when I got to the library this past Monday morning, after a chat session on Sunday. I logged into QuestionPoint to see what the question was, and found,
I had just put up the blog post in question the previous week, with the link to the contest application. I didn't have an electronic copy of the application, so I had to scan one of the print forms and make my own PDF.
So I was surprised to read the patron say it didn't work, because I remember opening it to double-check the margins of the scan looked okay.
Knowing that it worked, and thinking the patron must just be doing something wrong, I kept reading the chat transcript - confident that the chat librarian would have my back and set the patron right. But then this happened...
What? Well, maybe something was actually wrong, if the chat librarian was seeing a blank page too.
So of course, I immediately go to the blog post and try the link again - and sure enough, it works just fine. So, I create a new PDF of the form, and email it directly to the patron (email is included in the chat transcript), apologizing for the problem and asking him to let me know if this one doesn't work.
The patron emailed back to say thanks, and a little more. After getting my message saying that it worked for me, the patron kept experimenting with the PDF link, and explained what he found:
OK - here's the scoop in case you get any others with this issue. This looks like a Google Chrome browser issue, and it may be unique to my computer, perhaps a settings problem. The PDF document opens fine in IE, Firefox, and Edge. It even opens fine in Chrome if I save the file first. But when I try to link to the file via the web it opens but with blank content. [...]
Thanks again for your follow up. I hope I haven't wasted too much of your time.
Wasted my time? You just did my job for me!
I'm glad it worked for him, but I was curious to see if this issue was just this one patron, or a Chrome thing. A quick search for Chrome blank PDF turned up a lot of relevant results, including some on Google forums. It seems like this is indeed a Chrome problem. And not exactly a new one at that, so I'm surprised that this is the first I was encountering it.
It also explains why the chat librarian had the same issue, while everything worked fine for me in Firefox.
It's not very often that I outsource my job, but in this one instance, I outsourced it twice - first to the chat librarian, and second to the patron.
June 15th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Wednesday is my night to work at the library, and a couple hours before we closed I got an email from a coworker that just said,
I just took a picture that I think will be perfect for your blog. Ask me about it before you leave.
I had no idea what this might be, but at the end of the night, this was the picture from her phone:
She found this amusing because it looked to her that this patron was so desperate for help that she was willing to kneel before the desk (and pray?).
That is a funny thought, but when I explained to the rest of the evening staff what was really going on, they were even more amused.
So: around 2:30 that afternoon, a woman called in asking to reserve a study room for 7-9pm that evening, because she was proctoring a test for a student. No problem. Not 30 seconds after I hung up the phone, it rang again, this time a different woman asked to reserve a study room for her daughter, who was taking a test with a proctor.
I was quick on the uptake and asked if her daughter's name was the same one the proctor just gave me, and it was. Which, really, is just a funny little aside, and didn't really portend the communication difficulties to come.
The evening passd unremarkably. Seven o'clock rolls around and the proctor and student show up for their room.
About seven-thirty, the proctor comes out to the desk to ask if there is a way for her to print from her iPad. This perked me up a bit, because wireless printing is still new to us, and I am always happy when I can show it off. I gave her our little how-to handout, which she was satisfied with and went back to the room before I could help her with it.
About ten minutes later she was back, asking for help - and she was at the desk for the next half-hour. Here's what was going on:
- It turns out, she was proctoring a test for a foreign exchange student from Australia. The test the girl was taking had been emailed to the proctor, as a password-protected PDF (two of them, actually)
- She couldn't email the test to our wireless printer because it was a school iPad, and apparently could only send outgoing mail when it was connected to the school's network (this may or may not be true, but her email was definitely not working, and I wasn't going to change any of her school's settings playing around)
- After we got the wireless printing app installed, we still couldn't print because the PDFs were password protected, and the app just kept saying it couldn't access the file (but gave no provision to enter a password)
- She couldn't log into her school email from any other computer, because she couldn't remember her webmail password, and had left her school laptop at school
Sometime during our conversation, she also relayed that the test this girl was taking was some kind of Australian standardized test, which all Australian students must take - and must take at the same time. Which, of course, is Australia time, hence why they were in the library so late. Of course, the clock had already started, and we still hadn't even managed to print it yet.
The proctor was frazzled, the student was frustrated, and I, being functionally illiterate when it comes to Apple products, was running out of ideas.
But I know that if you start tapping things on an iPad other things happen, so this became my new strategy. When we just opened the PDF, it launched it Adobe Reader, which had limited export options*. However, at some point one of us noticed that her email had the option to move the PDF to iBooks, so we tried that.
Playing with it in iBooks, we found an option to email it with her personal (non-school) account, which miraculously did work. She emailed it to my library email, I opened the file at the desk, she entered the password, and thank goodness it printed okay. Repeat for part two of the test, and the girl was quickly to work - by about 8:20 pm.
All of this really was an ordeal to get through, compounded by the fact that the longer we screwed around, the less time the student had to take her test. My coworkers all appreciated this, and one remarked that she now understood why the woman was kneeling at the desk.
But no, that's not the reason. The proctor's shirt happened to have a very loose and floopy neckline, and if she leaned over towards the desk in the slightest, she'd be putting on quite a show. So, the entire time I was working with her, she kept using one hand to hold her shirt closed. And I don't know if you've tried it, but it is very difficult to try to operate an iPad while one hand is preventing a wardrobe malfunction.
Eventually, she just gave up and knelt in front of the desk, because at least that meant she didn't have to lean over. That was the point at which my coworker walked by.
So, amusing yes, but the story isn't quite over. At 8:55 pm I went to the study room to let them know the library was closing. Since I knew the student got a late start, I was going to offer to stay a bit past 9:00, if she needed just another ten or fifteen minutes to finish up.
The proctor said she appreciated that, but the test had another three hours(!) to go. Holy smokes. This town pretty much rolls up the sidewalks at 9pm, so I really have no idea where they were going to go to finish this test. I felt bad for them, but they were just happy to have the printed tests and said they'd figure something out.
And speaking of figuring something out, here's something I can't figure out: so, foreign exchange students usually go to the host country by themselves, right? So, when this student's mother called to reserve a room, she must have been calling from Australia. Huh.
*One option I never ruled out was opening the test on the iPad and just photocopying the screen. Luckily, we never had to implement this.
August 5th, 2010 Brian Herzog
I'm not entirely comfortable talking about something I haven't used myself, but I really like the idea of this software - it automatically OCRs flat-scanned PDFs and creates text-searchable versions.
Alright, some of you might be saying, "it does what now?" From their description (and more on SlashDot), this is software you install on your server. Then, when one of those horrible originally-scanned-as-one-big-image PDF files gets saved to a "watched" directory, the software automatically converts it to a proper, search-the-text type PDF.
Since I haven't tried it, I don't know how well it works. It sounds like it'll take a bit of tinkering to get operational, but it'd be worth it to make those scanned PDF more useful.
It would also be worth exploring hooking up a scanner directly with this software, to help speed the digitization of historical (and other) records. We looked at the Library Scan Station, which was pretty awesome itself, but was just too expensive for us. This might prove to be a lower-cost solution.
October 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog
I was asked these two questions back-to-back one day this week:
I want to sell my car on craigslist, and I want to be able to email people an info sheet. I've already created an Excel spreadsheet with mileage and other statistics, including a couple pictures pasted in. Can you show me how to put arrows and text on the pictures, and how to convert it to a pdf file?
I've been on Yahoo for a few months now. I know that I can get letters from people, and I can reply to letters people send me, but, can I send people letters too?
Of course, both of these are legitimate questions. I was just struck by such different technology experience levels from two patrons who walked up to the reference desk at about the same time.
And the answers are:
Excel's Drawing Toolbar (View > Toolbars > Drawing) allows both of these things. Click the icon that looks like an Arrow to draw an arrow on a picture, use the Line Style to make it thicker, and the Line Color icon to change the color. Then, click the Text Box icon to create a text box wherever you want words to appear. Use the Fill Color and Line Color to make sure it's legible against the picture.
To create a pdf version, we installed PDFcreator on our public computers. It shows up in the printer selection dropdown box, and creates a pdf file patron can then save to disk
Just click the "New" button in the upper left corner of the Inbox.
Tags: arrows, comfort levels, computer, excel, extremes, help, libraries, Library, new message, pdf, public, Reference Question, tech, text box, yahoo