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


Options for Offering a Public Scanner

   July 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog

scanning stationMy library finally rolled out a service patrons have been asking for ever since I started: a public scanner.

Requests for a scanner always seemed to wax and wane, and we never got serious about it because of all the logistics involved: where do we put it, should the computer be scanning-only or have full internet access, should we get a simple flatbed scanner or a dedicated scanning product made for libraries, will the staff be able to assist patrons, etc. etc. etc. Recently, the requests have been coming in so consistently that we just bought a low-cost flatbed scanner, hooked it to a computer, and put it out on the floor.

We did do some research beforehand, asking around to see what other libraries did. And coincidentally, on the very day we put the scanner out for the public, another library sent around an email asking the same questions - and very kindly, she also compiled and shared the responses (thanks Becky!):

Most libraries have 1 flatbed scanner that is connected to a public computer. 4 libraries had more than 1 scanner, and 1 library had set up a switch so that 4 computers could share 1 scanner. A few libraries had the scanner in a staff location that was easy for both staff and patron to access.One library kept a scanner at the Reference Desk, and gave it to patrons to hook up to any available computer.

A few libraries used different products: a copier that can also scan, an all-in-one printer that can scan, and book scanners including the BookScan Station from MDS, and the Scannx BookScan Center from Scannx.

Scanner models mentioned were the Epson GT-1500 (which has a document feeder), CanoScan 4500F, Epson WF-4530, Epson V37, and Fujitsu ScanSnap.

Only one library mentioned charging for scanning, many libraries said they did not charge as there was no real consumable cost.

All libraries said the service was very well received with these comments: being able to scan color documents was well received, users could scan to USB, Google Docs, or email, some libraries install the scanner at a computer that is 15 minute only or a walk-up computer, patron assistance is often necessary for first-time users of the equipment.

We really, really, liked the dedicated scanning stations because they are so easy to use, but the cost was prohibitive (in the $5,000 neighborhood). The scanner we purchased was the Epson GT-1500, which is just connected to a desktop computer. Some details:

  • Scanner cost: about $250
  • Features: document feeder tray, easy-scan buttons on the front of the scanner (which we didn't end up using, unfortunately: the scan-to-email button quickly became a problem, and the others ended up not being entirely intuitive, so we just used desktop shortcuts instead)
  • Picture scanning: we use the included Epson scanning software for this, and it works surprisingly well with just the default settings
  • Document scanning: we use the included ABBYY Reader software, which gives the option to scan to either Microsoft Word (to edit a document like a resume) or right to PDF to save/email a document without changes
  • Bonus Feature: not only is this a new scanner service for patrons, but it also means we can now meet the needs of patrons needing to make color photocopies - just scan their original as a PDF, and then print directly to the color printer! An extra step, but it works

Like the image scanning, the OCR capabilities are surprisingly good. In all the testing we did, there was not one mistake (all test scans were from printed pages, not handwriting). Anything it can't OCR is automatically scanned as an image, and the formatting in both the resulting PDF or Word document were impressive. Word did not carry through colored text, but that is easy enough to re-do.

Something else that impressed me was with the document feeder: I deliberately fed in sheets in opposite directions (as in, sheet one right-side up, sheet two upside-down, etc), to see what it would do - and the software was smart enough to orient them all right-side up and OCR the text with no mistakes.

We put out a couple instructional signs with the scanner to match the desktop shortcuts (Scan a Picture [pdf] and Scan a Document [pdf]), and we'll see how it goes. Staff picked it up quickly, and we can always adjust/improve the patron signs after we see where the stumbling blocks are.

We're also starting off with the policy of "scanning gets preference" at this computer, although it does have the same capabilities as all our other public workstations. We put a little sign saying,

Patrons needing to use the scanner have priority!
If you are not scanning you may be asked to move to a different computer.

And so far it hasn't been a problem. This is a stand-up computer, which we're hoping will facilitate the just-need-to-scan-something-quick patrons.



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Scanning Library Cards on Smartphones

   February 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Scanning library card barcode from smartphoneSomething 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 - Pay with Your Face*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:
George Costanza and his wallet



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Make Scanned PDFs Text-Searchable

   August 5th, 2010 Brian Herzog

WatchOCR logoI'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.



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Copyright Warning Bookmark

   June 17th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Copying a DVDWe had sort of an odd situation in my library a little while ago - the story is a bit long, so please bear with me:

As circ staff were checking returned items back in, they found a DVD case with no disc in it (not unusual). They called and left a message for the patron to check their DVD player and please return the missing disc.

The patron called back after we were closed, left a message that she returned the wrong case, and asked we call her at work the next day.

What? Wrong case?

When our Head of Circulation called her the next day, the work number the patron gave was for a video reproduction company(!). When she finally spoke with the patron, the patron told her that she had the disc and the library's case, and the one she returned (accidentally) was a color photocopy she'd made of the DVD jacket (which it was, and confirmed in that the barcode and other stickers were no longer stickers).

This set off debate amongst the department heads in my library. It seems, clearly, that this patron worked at a video reproduction company that was checking out DVDs from the library and not just ripping the DVDs, but creating reproductions of the cases too - to who knows what end. Even if they're not mass reproducing them for sale, this activity is still illegal.

But, we have no actual proof of DVD copying, just speculation (maybe she just liked the DVD jacket?), and it'd be a major step to accuse a patron of this or to notify the police (or FBI?). So after some debate, we decided the library's role is to:

  • make information and materials available to the public, and
  • make the public aware of the copyright limitations of library materials

Our logic is that we can't police patrons and force them to follow intellectual property laws, but it is our responsibility to make sure they are informed of those laws.

To do that, we wanted to make a small handout or bookmark that informed patrons of copyright restrictions, but I wasn't sure exactly where to begin. I had bookmarked a Columbus Dispatch article entitled "Copying library CD? You just broke the law" awhile ago because of something I'd heard of going on at another library* and that article mentioned Carrie Russell, a copyright specialist for the American Library Association.

I found her ALA contact information, sent her an email explaining our situation and asking if she had concise wording we could use for a short copyright handout. Her response was hands-down the quickest (next day!) and most helpful reply I've ever gotten from someone at the ALA:

Brian:

I usually suggest that the library suspend the patron's borrowing privileges when it is clear they are infringing.

You can use language from the CFR to craft a letter. This is the language that libraries should use when lending software, but you can use it for this situation too.

Notice: Warning of Copyright Restrictions The copyright law of the United States (title 17, United States Code) governs the reproduction, distribution, adaptation, public performance, and public display of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in law, nonprofit libraries are authorized to lend, lease, or rent copies of computer programs to patrons on a nonprofit basis and for nonprofit purposes. Any person who makes an unauthorized copy or adaptation of the computer program, or redistributes the loan copy, or publicly performs or displays the computer program, except as permitted by title 17 of the United States Code, may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to fulfill a loan request if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the request would lead to violation of the copyright law. (37 C.F.R. 201.24)

Hope this helps.
-Carrie

Some of us liked the idea of suspending the patron's borrowing privileges (at least temporarily), but we decided against that as a first step. From the wording Carrie sent, I created the following copyright notice brochure (changing references to "computer programs" to be inclusive of all library material). These bookmarks are kept at the Circ Desk and given to those patrons we suspect need the information most.

Feel free to edit and use this for your own library, and let me know if you can recommend any improvements. I was going for "fewer words = more likely to be read" but didn't quite get there.

 


*Another long story, for another time. In the meantime, here's a Video Pirates clip that's worth watching.



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