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


Take-Home Tech Support, or, Why Second Thoughts Are Important

   October 29th, 2014 Brian Herzog

tabletphoneLast week, a patron came in and asked for help using the scanner. No problem.

But while I was helping her, she explained that she has an all-in-one copier/printer/scanner that used to work great but is now giving her trouble, hence the trip to the library. She tried describing to me what the problem was, and it seemed like it should be diagnosable and solvable, but I was just not getting it.

One great thing about the emergence of mobile devices, and increasing prevalence of laptops, is that people can bring them into the library for tech support. But with desktops, and in this case copier/printer/scanners, even something that would be simple to correct continues to plague them because it's too difficult to communicate either the problem or the solution remotely.

So, the idea struck me - why not start a program offering in-home tech support? I think it would be unrealistic to send library staff out to patrons' homes, but how about this: we have a special "tech support tablet" that patrons can check out, and then when they get home, use Skype or some other video chat service. That way, I could actually see what the problem was, read the error messages on their screen, see what lights were flashing, tell them which menus to click, etc.

Really, it'd be offering the same service we currently provide to patrons who can bring their devices to the library, so why not offer it remotely too?

Well, any number of reasons, if you think about it. First, this would still be difficult, and not like being there in person. Second, and maybe more frighteningly, who knows what else might show up on the screen besides tech problems. This was basically the reason this idea went no further.

I mean, I still like this idea, and think it could help people. But it would be tricky, and has a lot of downside potential, so for the time being this is just going to be filed under "maybe someday."



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Library Anytime: Highlighting 24/7 Library Services

   May 23rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Library Anytime logoHere's an idea that my coworkers and I had talked about for a little while, but really saw take shape at PLA12.

We wanted to create a webpage that really focused attention on all of our library services that patrons can use without having to come into the library. Good idea, right? We went round and round coming up with a name, but eventually settled on Library Anytime.

The PLA session that gelled everything was Designing and Building a Social Library Website, with Rebecca Ranallo (Cuyahoga County [OH] Public Library) and Nate Hill (San Jose Public Library). Their talk was inspiring, and we tried to blend* all their ideas into a single website:

  • Cuyahoga PL has a "library after dark" website, that pops up on their homepage when the library is closed over night - it focuses on resources and services people can use from home or elsewhere
  • San Jose Public Library's website looks great - very distinctive and eye-catching. However, Nate said that after using it for a couple years, they're going to be making some changes (which made me feel less bad about completely lifting their design)

We didn't create any new content for this website - it's just a (hopefully) easy-to-use portal to get to tools that already existed on our main website. But: having a second website to supplement the main website probably means the first website needs work, so our plan is to use this as a basis for a complete redesign of our main website.

Anyway, we launched Library Anytime during National Library Week (which, for those who are counting, gave us a three week development window following PLA), and so far patrons seem to like it. And I can't tell you the number of "I didn't know you guys had..." kind of comments I've heard since.

 


*steal



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Geolocation Database Access from MBLC

   June 8th, 2010 Brian Herzog

MBLC logoLast week, my Director gave me a letter she received from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) with good news - the database access they provide through Gale and Proquest now offer geolocation authentication for any computer in Massachusetts.

Good for patrons:

  • Just click a link on the library's website to get into the database - whether the patron is in the library or at home (within Massachusetts), they get right into the database without having to also enter their library card barcode or anything else
  • If they're traveling outside of Massachusetts, they can still access the database using the same link, because they'll be prompted to enter their card number
  • Patrons from other states who are traveling in Massachusetts can access all of our databases without having to be in the library - any internet connection within the state will do

Good for librarians:

  • We just need to put a single link on our website that works for both in-library and at-home access - much easier to manage
  • Each link includes a library identifier, so we still get usage stats on anyone using the links on our website
  • The MBLC provides a list of all the links for each library (ours look like this), so we just need to copy/paste them onto our website and it works

MA libraries have until Oct. 31, 2010 to get the new links posted, because that's when the old links stop working. If you need help, or didn't get a letter like this, contact Marlene Heroux and the MBLC. And libraries outside of MA, contact Gale and Proquest to see how to get this to happen for you, too. They can do it, so ask for it.

Way to go, MBLC!



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Free Access to Ancestry.com’s Military Resources

   November 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ancestry.com logoIn honor of Veterans Day, Ancestry.com is offering free access to all of its US Military resources through Friday, Nov. 13th.

An AP story also says that Ancestry has added some new resources, including

...more than 600 Navy cruise books...[which] include the names and photos of those who served on ships...one book - a 1946 edition for the U.S.S. Pennsylvania - includes a photo of TV legend Johnny Carson.

Great idea, Ancestry - thank you. And if I may suggest another great idea: offer libraries remote access at an affordable price.

via LibraryStuff



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/12/08

   October 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Bank tellersLibrarians are always on duty.

Every once in awhile, I'll get recognized when I'm out around town as "the guy from the library." But since I see so many patrons at the library, I hardly ever recognize their faces when I'm out in the real world.

Usually, people just say hi or thank me for whatever I helped them with, but this time I was asked a real library question (talk about roving reference).

I was at bank during lunch, filling out some forms at the counter with a teller. When my transaction was completed, the teller paused a moment and then asked me if I worked at the library.

She said a club she is in held a meeting there, and the meeting room worked perfectly for them. So much so that she wanted to schedule meetings at the library for a different group she's in, and asked me what our meeting room policy was (of course, she didn't say "meeting room policy" - only librarians say that).

I told her about the rooms we have, how to schedule a room, and took her business card with me when I left. I told her I'd check our meeting room availability calendar when I got back to the library, and call her later that day. I did, we found an open time that worked for her group, and she was extremely happy that I happened to come into the bank that day.

You never know when simple coincidences will work out like that - I guess you just have to be open to them.

However, had this happened about a month from now, I could have helped her right there in the bank. My library is in the process of getting an online meeting room booking system up and running, and we've almost got the bugs worked out (I'll post more about this when it's ready). If we were already on that system, instead of still using paper calendar books, she and I could have checked room availability online from her work computer, and then made her reservation before I even left the bank.

Not that I encourage librarians to walk around town getting people to do personal business while they're at work, of course. But I do think the more library services people can access remotely, the easier it is for patrons to use them, and the library.



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