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


Reference Question of the Week – 8/17/14

   August 23rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

velocarYou know that saying about teaching a man to fish? Well, in this case, it was more like just having to point out to him that he had a big plate of fish sitting right in front of him.

A patron walked up and said this to me:

Can you request a book for me? I think it's a French book, I mean a book from France. I don't know the title or the author though. But it's got instructions for a velocar inside. On second thought, it might not be a book, it might be a magazine, but in French. Can you get that for me?

Well that's all fine, but what's a velocar? Apparently, it's a type of bicycle that's more like a pedal-powered three-wheeled car, and indeed from France.

After talking to the patron a bit, what I learned was that he was interested in building one of these for himself, and found some plans online. Except, the plans were pages from a book (or magazine) that someone posted on a forum - except, they were too small to read, so he wanted to find the original book (or magazine) so he could see the instructions. He said he'd already tried printing what he'd found, and indeed showed me the pages, which indeed were just too low-quality to read.

I told him the only place I could even think of to begin with this was the website where he found them - maybe, I hoped, the book (or magazine) pages would have the title and author on them which would give us a lead. But failing that, it seemed like all we could would be to try to email whoever posted them to the forum and hopefully find out the original source that way.

So we walked back to his computer so I could see the forum he was on. And sure enough, multiple pages were posted there, and the thumbnail images looked more or less like instructions for building a velocar. And of course, being thumbnails, they were too small to read, so I naturally clicked the first one in the hopes of finding information about the source.

A larger image of the page popped up, and the patron immediately stopped me by saying, in a somewhat shocked voice, "what did you just do?"

I explained that the thumbnails like this are usually linked to larger versions, and clicking them will bring up a version you can read or print. I figured he had tried this, because he had the large printed version which were poor quality.

But no, he had no idea you could click the thumbnails. What he did know how to do was right-click on the thumbnail, copy/paste it into Word, expand the image to make it fill the whole page, and print it. Of course, expanding a small thumbnail to fit a whole page will look terrible, which accounted for the low-quality prints he had.

He knew how to do all of that, but didn't know you could just click the thumbnail and see a higher-quality version.

So I showed him how to get from the forum post with the thumbnail to the larger, print-ready version, and he was happy. Sort of befuddled that it was right there in front of him the whole time, but definitely happy that he would so easily get the plans for the velocar.

I always like showing patrons new tricks and things that make their life easier, but holy smokes I didn't expect it in this case. Not only was this a new skill for a patron, but I didn't end up having to try to track down a mysterious book from France.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/10/14

   August 16th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Rolling Stone on microfilmA patron came into our branch library and told the staff that she participated in a "Reading Olympics" program at the library as a kid, in 1980 "or sometime when she was in school," and wanted to know if there a photo in the newspaper. She thought she remembered seeing one, of a group shot of all the participants. Our branch doesn't have much for local history resources, so the question was transferred to me at the main library.

We do have newspaper microfilm from those years, but I'm reluctant to start searches like that with such a vague date reference. However, the library has done a great job for decades of keeping scrapbooks of all library-related news clippings, flyers, newsletters, and things like that, so that was where I started. I flipped through the scrapbooks from 1979-1981, but sadly didn't see anything related to a Reading Olympics. Lots of other stuff though, which made me think that the Reading Olympics didn't happen at the public library.

It's possible it was a school or school library program, or with the Scouts or some other group, just not the public library. I called the branch back and gave them the news, and also that if the patron wanted to come in to use the newspaper microfilm I can help get them started.

I felt bad about not finding what they were looking for, but, as often happens with research, I found other interesting things. One was the Winter 1980 library newsletter, with an article about buying a microfilm machine and microfilm collection.

This caught my eye because we're buying a new microfilm machine this year (the second since this one in 1980, but the first I've purchased). Back then, the machine and collection cost $5000; this year the ScanPro 2000 we're getting is about $7000. Also back then, printing cost $0.10; our current price is $0.15. Inflation!

Other interesting articles just on the cover of the newsletter are:

  • the library is advertising for customers for its own print shop
  • the library serves as a carpool center

Two great ways to be a community center. Nice job, 1980 Chelmsford Library!



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/3/14

   August 9th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Westford Farmers MarketA patron called in, wanting to know the hours of a farmers market in a neighboring town. She thought it opened at 2:30pm, and that's what the newspaper said. However, she had driven by the site earlier in the week and a sign said the hours were 3-7pm.

A quick search lead me to their website, which listed the hours as 2:30-6:30. That seemed fairly conclusive to me, but the patron was still troubled. I wish we recorded calls so I could have transcribed this verbatim, but this is my memory of how she digested this information:

Well, I don't know which time is right, or why they're posting all these different times all over creation. I don't always trust newspapers, but I suppose the internet time is probably right. I mean, it's easy to put something on the internet right? I imagine it takes time to repaint a sign, so maybe they changed the time and just haven't repainted their sign yet. So I'll just go there at 2:30 because their website says that. 2:30 is better for my schedule anyhow.

I had no advice to give one way or the other, so I agreed and we hung up. I've never known an open-air market like this to be a stickler for hours of operation, so if her concern was for being able to select items before they were sold out, she should be fine.

And for what it's worth, every other web resource I found listed 2:30 as well. Maybe they'll have their sign repainted for next year.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/27/14

   August 2nd, 2014 Brian Herzog

Out of My Mind book coverThis is a question from when my website is down - I only mention that because of the postscript at the end.

I haven't gotten this type of question in awhile, and finding the answer has never come this easily.

A young girl came up to me at the desk asked for "a blue book with fish bowl on cover." She couldn't remember the title except thought it was something like "one at a time." I asked her if she knew the author, and she said it was a blue book with fish bowl on cover. I asked her what the book was about, and she didn't know - she said her teacher was reading it to the class and she liked it.

So, I did a web search for blue book with fish bowl on cover, and the very first image in the results was exactly what she was looking for. Incredible.

I searched our catalog for Out of My Mind, only to find our copy was checked out. I offered to request it for her, but she declined. I hate that.

So the postscript is that this question is from May, apparently when this book (or at least, searches for this book) was more popular. It really was the first search result, and that's what shocked me and made me think it was a post-worthy reference question. I mean, how often does that happen?

While typing up this post though, I had to really look for the cover image in the results, as it had been bumped way down. Maybe I just got lucky, or that library serendipity was strong with me that day. Or maybe Google's search algorithms really are effective in making zeitgeisty things more prominent.

In any case, I could just have easily been asked this question this week, and the process of finding the answer would have been different - which I find interesting.

 


Update 8/27/14: A reader sent in this tip, which had not occurred to me: instead of including the word "blue" as a search term, try leaving it out and using Google color search tool. Much better results - thanks, Jessica!



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/21/14

   July 26th, 2014 Brian Herzog

legalpadA patron asked for help using our public scanner. She had forms from a court in Rhode Island that she needed to scan, fill in the information, and then print to bring to court. No problem, right?

We scanned it, OCR'd to Word, and she spent time filling them in. I then showed her how to save a copy by sending it to herself in email. She said she knew how to print, so I went back to the desk.

A few minutes later she came over and said her document wasn't printing. I walked over and saw the printer was asking for legal paper in tray 1. Since the forms we scanned were legal size, I should have anticipated this, but I got some legal paper for her, put it in the tray, and waited with her to make sure it printed okay.

When it came out, I picked it up off the printer and was happy to see everything was formatted correctly on the legal paper and the print job looked fine. Except, the patron was not happy - when she saw how long her document was on legal size paper, she said,

That's no good; the court will never accept that weird long paper.

I honestly didn't know if it would or not, but since it is legal paper, and the same size as the forms they gave her, I thought it was a pretty safe bet that they would. But she insisted on reformatting the document to print on 8.5x11 paper.

Luckily she had sent it to herself in email, because she had already deleted the new Word file. So we downloaded and opened it, I showed her to how change the page size, and then she went through comparing the text to make sure everything was there before printing on regular paper.

She asked me to shred the legal size copy - which I did, but not until after asking her if she was sure she didn't want to take both to court just in case. She did not.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/13/14

   July 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog

DVD with padlock installedHere's something that was entirely new to me - I didn't have a very good answer at the time, and, really, I still don't.

A patron called with this complaint:

I checked out two DVDs from other libraries, and am having trouble with them. I only have a laptop at home for watching movies - no television with a regular DVD player - and these two DVDs won't play in it. Other library DVDs I've gotten in the past have worked okay, but I noticed these two are purple. Why won't they play?

Uh... I had no idea. I thought purple DVDs could mean either just purple-colored plastic as some marketing gimmick, or, a colored data side could mean a DVD-R. I asked her to verify that these were real library DVDs, with the library's stickers and everything else on them (as opposed to a copy someone just burned and kept the original for themselves [which happens]), and sure enough, they did.

So they were real DVDs that some library purchased, yet they wouldn't play in her laptop.

I did some quick web searching, and found that other people do indeed have trouble playing purple DVDs. Mostly it's people with PlayStations (for which some guy has a tape-based solution).

Since I struck out there, I thought I'd look up these DVDs in the catalog to see if I could learn anything - and surprisingly, I did. One record had this note:

"This disc is compatible with all DVD players authorized in the U.S. and Canada"--Container.

So much for that. However, the record for the other DVD included this note:

"This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives"--Container.

Ehh... so it's another misguided DRM "feature." Now my best guess is that these DVDs are encoded to only work on play-only DVD players, whereas this patron's laptop's DVD drive was a read/write drive. I love that media studios treat everyone like potential criminals.

Anyway, I'd never noticed these purple DVDs, but I put one on request for myself to test it in various laptops I have. But some cataloger somewhere must have known these are limited-use DVDs, since not all of our patrons will be able to use them. My vote is to never buy these again.

Has anyone else encountered these? Am I right in thinking this is a "security" "feature?" Does anyone know of a way for my patron - who only has her laptop and no other DVD player - to watch these movies at home? Thanks.



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