July 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I've talked about pay phones before, but I like them - and we do still get asked about them - so here's the latest pay phone question.
This week, a man came to the Reference Desk asking if we knew where any pay phones were. The phones in the shopping plaza across the street were removed earlier this year, which were the last pay phones in town I knew of.
Since the pay phone was removed from our lobby, our policy has been to let people use desk phones. I offered this to the patron, but he declined because it was going to be a long call to Worcester, MA (which would also be a long distance call). He said he preferred a pay phone, so my coworker and I and the patron brainstormed where one might be.
We thought of all the high-traffic retail centers, but couldn't definitely remember seeing one anywhere. Eventually the patron thanked us, and just sort of wandered away.
This bothered me, so that night after work, I went grocery shopping. My grocery store is in a big shopping plaza*, and I drove around slowly really looking for a pay phone. And, success! I found one right outside the entrance to Wal-Mart:
At the library the next day, I relayed my find to my coworker, and also the patron who came in later. We thought this could very well be the last pay phone in town, and thought the only way to be sure was to drive around trying to spot them. Not being a digital native, you see, it took awhile before I realized that this is why Facebook was invented.
I asked on the Library's Facebook page if anyone knew where there were pay phones in town, and immediately got some responses:
Great! Crowd-sourcing Reference Questions is kind of fun - and certainly provided a better answer than I did for the patron. This might even motivate me to create a Custom Google Map of local pay phone locations - it would be a challenge to maintain, but there certainly is no other resource for this question.
*This plaza just got a Five Guys!
June 5th, 2013 Brian Herzog
A little while ago I saw an interesting post on Lifehacker about why hearing a cell phone conversation is so annoying. I'd heard this theory before, and agree with it - at least, in my own anecdotal experience, overhearing a cell phone call is way more distracting than overhearing two people having a conversation.
I'd even add one more element to their list: phone calls are more distracting than a conversation because of the pauses. When two people are having a conversation, since one or the other is constantly talking, it becomes sort of a constant background noise (which is easy for me to block out, say, while reading on a train). But overhearing just one half of a phone call, an irregular sequence of noise-pause-noise-pause, is impossible for me to filter out because each time the person starts talking again is a new distraction.
Anyway, for all these reasons, cell phones in a quiet space like a library are always going to be a problem - even in a not-necessarily-quiet library like mine. Until we can get a good white noise generator* that would drowned it out, perhaps what we really need are dedicated spaces for people to have cell phone conversations.
So, thanks to Stephanie for pointing out the cell phone phone booth:
I did a little digging and found that these are available from Salemi Industries - but according to a write up from 2006(!), they cost $2,400 to $3,500.
I'm sure a few of these would help, but if we're talking that kind of money, I'd still prefer a fountain.
*All my requests for a fountain in front of the Reference Desk have so far been denied.
April 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This wasn't a very difficult question, and although it didn't have a great ending, I thought it was interesting anyway - and happy we could help because the patron had no where else to go.
A patron walked up to the Reference Desk and asked to use the phone. We generally only let people use desk phones to call for rides or other quick things, mainly to make sure phones are available for staff to answer incoming patron calls.
Since it was fairly early in the day, I asked him if he was calling for a ride, and he said,
No, I need to call email tech support. I called them last night to help with my email, but he said I needed to be in front of the computer. I don't have one at home, so I always use the library computers. I don't have a cell phone either, but I think this computer here in the corner is close enough to the Reference Desk that I could stretch the phone cord across the aisle while I talk to him. It should be a quick call.
Okay, by the time he was finished speaking, all kinds of red flags were waving for all they're worth.
I sympathize with people trying to use technology without actually owning their own technology - libraries are great, but obviously some things are much easier to do at home. However, also obviously, I couldn't allow this patron to:
- block an aisle way by stretching a cord across it
- engage in a phone conversation at the public workstation, since we routinely ask people doing this very thing to take their cell phone call in a different area of the library so as not to bother the other computer users near them
- tie up one of the Reference Desk phones for this long a time - no tech support call in history has been "quick"
Hoping to avoid this situation entirely, I asked the patron what he was trying to do, and if I could help. His answer kind of surprised me:
I've always used Hotmail, but now I'm switching to Gmail. The Gmail people said they were able to import everything from my Hotmail account, except what was in my Drafts folder. But when I went in to move those myself, I accidentally deleted some, so I called Hotmail to see if they could be restored.
First, I had no idea that Gmail offered a migration service, but they do. Neat. Secondly, I think he's right in that he'd need Hotmail tech support to recover deleted messages. I did check his account with him, just to see if there was something he overlooked, but from what we could tell the draft messages in question were gone.
And so, this left us with the original question of how he could use a phone and a computer at the same time. Eventually it dawned on me that he could borrow one of the laptops we loan to the public, and the Reference Desk's cordless phone,* and sit in an area of the library where his talking wouldn't bother anyone. It seemed like a good solution, and he was happy.
45 minutes later(!) he came back, a little dejectedly, and said Hotmail couldn't recover his messages after all. He wasn't entirely sure of the reason, but by this point had accepted it. The messages weren't critical, but he certainly would have preferred to have them. I apologized and we commiserated a bit about technological dependence, then he thanked me for the library being able to accommodate his situation, and left.
So in case anyone was wondering, the digital divide is still alive and well. It also made me wonder: do any libraries loan cell phones to patrons? I'm not an expert on cell phone technology, but I think there are the the kind where patrons could just pay to put minutes on them, so it wouldn't cost the library anything. It would have been helpful in a case like this, or if a patron was going on a trip or something and wanted the security of being in touch. It seems like a good idea, but I'm sure I'm overlooking some vital flaw.
*Our Reference Desk has two phones at the desk (and two computers), as well as a cordless phone in the Reference Office behind the Desk. We carry this with us when we know we'll be away from the desk, because it sure beats trying to sprint back to the desk when the phone rings while you're in the stacks.
Tags: computer, digital divide, email, gmail, hotmail, libraries, Library, migrate, phone, public, Reference Question, tech support
March 2nd, 2013 Brian Herzog
This sort of happened once before, and I think it's awesome - although it probably wasn't very awesome to experience.
One member of our staff recently took a two-week cruise, leaving from Florida. She and her partner flew to Florida, took a shuttle from the airport to the dock, and were just about to get on the boat when the realized one of their suitcases was missing. But worst of all, it was the suitcase that contained his blood pressure medicine.
They simply could not go on the cruise without it. And they only had an hour and a half before they had to check in on the ship, so they didn't have enough time to get all the way back to the airport and try to track down the bag.
So, she did the only smart thing - she called the library.
Her logic was this: they knew the name of his doctor and the town in which he practiced, but no other contact information. The Reference Desk was able to easily find the doctor's office phone number, which she then called from her cell phone in Florida.
The doctor's office said they could send a new prescription to a local pharmacy down there - but of course they were at a cruise ship terminal and had no idea where a drug store might be.
The ensuing story sounded like the stuff of a Benny Hill sketch: they found a taxi, but the driver barely spoke English. He tried to locate a CVS Pharmacy on his smartphone's GPS, while my coworker tried to keep the doctor's office on the phone. I can just hear Yakety Sax playing while picturing this cab racing down the street, cell phones blazing, communication barrier humming, and the clock ticking.
They finally find a pharmacy, (hopefully) convince the cabbie to wait in the parking lot because they'll be right back out and need to race back to the dock - my coworker still has the doctor's office on the phone and gives it to the pharmacy technician so they can work out where to send the prescription.
After a few tense minutes the new prescription is filled, the smiling taxi driver is happily waiting for them, and they make it back to the cruise ship just in the nick of time. The rest of the cruise goes smoothly, they have a wonderful time, and they even manage to pick up their lost suitcase on their way back through the airport going home.
And the moral of this story? Never go on vacation without taking your local library's phone number with you.
January 14th, 2012 Brian Herzog
I found this question interesting, even though I couldn't help much. An older woman came up to the desk one afternoon and said:
I have message from my granddaughter on my cell phone that I would like to save. How can I record that to a CD so I can listen to it whenever I want?
As you might suspect, I'm decently competent when it comes to tech questions, but I know nothing about cell phones. However, I suspected there must be some web interface she could log into and see all of her account's voicemail as mp3 files or something - at least, I hoped there was. Short of that, there was always the low-tech method of simply holding her phone close to a tape recorder.
Her carrier was AT&T, so I called the local AT&T store and asked them about downloading voicemail files - this is the guy's response:
No, we don't have anything like that - just tell her to hold her phone up to a tape recorder*.
Man. Yeah, I'm sure it'll work, but the quality would probably be pretty bad. So, I tried searching online for recording voicemail from cell phone and after reading a few posts, I found the obvious answer of using the phone's headphone jack to plug into a computer and use that to record.
The Ask MetaFiler post was particularly informative, as it provided multiple options including a list of the different hardware and software options available. Of course, we didn't have any of this in the library, so I couldn't help the woman directly. But it did provide me with enough information to call around to a few local computer repair shops, and ask them if they had the equipment and ability to record her message for her.
Of the shops I called, one said they'd do it for $10 and one said they'd do it for free, and the woman was very happy. She said she's try the free one first, and if it didn't sound good enough, she'd try the other.
It's kind of too bad we didn't have the right cable to do this - now I'm really curious to see if it works (but not enough to actually get my own cell phone).
*The guy at the AT&T store also did say that if the woman was being threatened she should take it to the Police, but that wasn't the case.
Tags: cell, cell phone, cellphone, headphones, libraries, Library, message, phone, public, record, recording, Reference Question, voice mail, voicemail
February 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog
Something I really like about smartphones are apps like CardStar and Key Ring - they let you input the numbers from all the club and rewards cards from your keychain and display the barcode on your phone.
Patrons also use these apps for their library card numbers, and some libraries aren't sure how to handle the library-card-on-smartphone situation. It hasn't really come up in my library, but I know our traditional scanners won't read barcodes off a smartphone screen. So, I thought I'd do some research to find out what it would take to accommodate these patrons.
The reason it doesn't work is because traditional barcode scanners are designed to read laser light reflected off a solid surface. Smartphone screens are emitting light, so an entirely different technology is needed.
The scanners that can read barcodes on smartphones are called CCD scanners (what that stands for is less important than a short description or a compare/contrast between CCD and traditional laser scanners).
After learning this, I started looking around at the different models and costs of CCD scanners. I stumbled across a Quora post mentioning a company called FaceCash* which sells scanners for $30. That's cheap enough for experimentation, so I contacted Aaron Greenspan (FaceCash founder) and bought one.
And it worked. I plugged it into a computer's USB port, held it up to an iPhone with a library card displayed on it, and Beep, the scanner read it just like it should. I'm always shocked when tech things work right out of the box. And happily, the scanner also reads** regular barcodes too.
So now, for just $30, my library can accommodate those patrons who make their lives easier*** through mobile technology.
Recent studies show this is fast becoming the standard in the business world - especially airlines. So the only question is whether or not libraries are willing to honor "virtual" library cards.
I don't see why not. It doesn't seem like fraud would be any more of an issue with this than with regular library cards. When we sign up a patron for a new library card, we give them a wallet card and a keychain card - so already there is more than one copy of the card in existence, which means more than one person could be using it. Since we don't make people show a picture ID when they present their library card, people could already be using someone else's card and we'd never know. Besides, if it's good enough for the TSA and airline security, I think we can manage.
But best of all, accepting these means that it's easier for patrons to bring their library card with them to the library. This is both better customer service and will save staff time in not having to look patrons up. Now that I have this scanner, I just have to wait for a patron to come in who needs it - what a strange feeling to be ahead of the curve.
*FaceCash is a new way to pay for things - you add money to your FaceCash account, and install the FaceCash app on your phone. Then when you're in a store or restaurant that accepts FaceCash, the app displays your account barcode for the business to scan, and also a picture of your face, so the clerk can verify that you are actually you. With more and more personal data being stored in phones, the visual verification is a great idea. If my library charged fines, I'd want to sign up us to accept FaceCash.
**One limitation of CCD scanners is their short range - just a couple inches, compared to 8-10" range of traditional scanners. Plus, the scanner I bought is trigger-operated, rather than motion-operated like our existing scanners. So, even though it can read both physical and digital barcodes, I don't think we'll swap out what we've got for it, but instead just plug it in and use it when a smartphone patron comes to the desk.
***I like just about anything that reduces waste and clutter. These apps let you store useful information easily, instead of lugging around a whole deck of various cards, and that makes life better. Read a few more tips to simplify your wallet, so you don't end up like George:
Tags: barcode, card, device, devices, libraries, Library, mobile, phone, phones, public, scan, scanner, scanning, smartphone, smartphones