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




Reference Question of the Week – 10/4/09

   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?

...and...

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

...and...

Just click the "New" button in the upper left corner of the Inbox.



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Talking Tech

   September 22nd, 2009 Brian Herzog

tech support manNew technologies are constantly becoming more integrated into how libraries perform their core functions. As this evolves, staff (and patrons) of all experience levels need to be able to communicate, but this is often difficult and problematic.

Enter Roy Tennant's recent The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology post (via LISnews). It's a good start to getting people unfamiliar with technology to start thinking about technology in realistic terms - it's not something to be afraid of, it's a tool (and even tech people don't know everything). All of his 10 tips are helpful, but #5 is key:

  1. Iterate, don't perfect. Librarians seem to love perfection. We don't want to put any technology out for the public to use until we think it is perfect. Well, we need to get over ourselves. Savvy tech companies know the path to success is to release early and iterate often. One of the major benefits of this is that your users can provide early feedback on what they like and don't like, thereby providing essential input into further development. Do not be afraid of a "beta" or "prototype" label -- people are now accustomed to such, and it can provide the necessary "cover" to being less than perfect.

But this is not new. Roy's post reminded me of two other articles I had seen last year Computers in Libraries:

These two are more focused on how front-line staff can become more comfortable doing their own tech troubleshooting. But best of all, by raising their comfort level and tech competencies, conveying problems to the dedicated tech support (whether internal or external) should also improve.

Naturally, these two articles overlap a bit on the tips that are most important:

  • Make sure the power is on to all components (if not, turn it on and see if that fixes the problem)
  • Make sure all the cables are plugged in and connected firmly (feel free to unplug and plug back in the cables
  • Try rebooting - that works more often than you'd imagine

But also important are the areas in which they don't overlap. The Singer Gordon/West article provide excellent tips on basic tasks anyone using a computer should (but might not!) know. And the Ennis article focuses more on how to avoid more serious problems, identify them when they happen, and then communicate important information to tech support.

My favorite sentence of all three articles comes from Lisa A. Ennis's article, in which she reminds tech support staff that the entire burden doesn't rest with the front-line staff. Her personal philosophy as a systems librarian is:

I'm not here for the technology. I'm here for the people.

That is key. Example: an email system that delivers no spam but sometimes blocks legitimate messages is not a good email system.

Technology is not a one-person game. Everyone uses it, so everyone has a role to play in making sure it works correctly - and that it is serving the mission of the library.



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Tech Support Cheat Sheet

   August 27th, 2009 Brian Herzog

You may have already seen this, as it was published a few days ago (which on the interwebs is like being over 30), but it is so true that I had to share. And add XKCD to your feed reader.

tech support cheat sheet



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/31/09

   June 6th, 2009 Brian Herzog

In this funny video, replace "dad" with "library patron" and it's a reference question many librarians know all too well. At least, for the first third of the video - after that, it gets kind of weird and definitely violates the appropriate library behavior policy.

via Huffington Post



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Upcoming Workshop: CMS Day!

   May 19th, 2009 Brian Herzog

website designer comicI'm a member of the IT section of the New England Library Association, and we're holding a workshop on popular CMS software. If you're thinking about redesigning or updating your website, or would are just curious about what CMS' are and what they can do, then this workshop is for you.

CMS Day! Build a better website with Content Management Systems: Drupal, Joomla, Plone, & WordPress
Keynote by Jessamyn West

Date: Friday, June 12, 2009
Location: Portsmouth Public Library, Portsmouth, NH (directions)
Cost: NELA members - $50; Non-members - $60
Registration Fee includes lunch & a NELA USB hub!

To Register
Secure online registration & downloadable mail-in registration [pdf] are both available at http://www.nelib.org/its/conference. Registration Closes Monday June 8.

Program Schedule
10:00 a.m. - Registration & Coffee & Library Tours
10:30 a.m. - Keynote: CMS options - Jessamyn West
12 noon - Lunch (provided!) and Library Tours
12:45 p.m. - Librarians share their real-life CMS experiences:
--Drupal - Darien (CT) PL (darienlibrary.org) & Paige Eaton Davis, Minuteman Network
--Joomla - Randy Robertshaw, Tyngsborough PL (tynglib.org)
--Plone - Rick Levine & CMRLS Librarians
--WordPress - Theresa Maturevich, Beverly (MA) PL (beverlypubliclibrary.org)
3:30 p.m. -Wrap-Up!

Keynote by Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West is a community technology librarian. She lives in rural Vermont where assists tiny libraries with their technology planning and implementation. Her favorite color is orange. Jessamyn maintains an online presence at: librarian.net and jessamyn.info

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NELA Program Refund Policy: A full refund shall be granted provided that the registered attendee has contacted the authorized representative of ITS responsible for taking registrations, at least ten (10) business days in advance of the program. In the event that notice is given less than ten days, a refund is not granted, however, they may send a substitute to the program.

For more information, please contact Scott Kehoe at 978-762-4433 x16 / scott@nmrls.org



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Levels of Service

   December 16th, 2008 Brian Herzog

503 Error: Service UnavailableSince the outages caused by the ice storm on Thursday, my library has been slowly reestablishing our affected services. First back up was our power and heat and catalog (day two), then wireless internet (day three), then internet to the public workstations (day four).

This progressive-improvement situation made for a good quote. When asked by a staff person if things were working again, the response was:

Everything is working, but we're still working on making it patron-proof again.

It made perfect sense in context, but when I thought about it later, it sounded both funny and counter-intuitive.

Recovering from an unintended power outage really draws a stark line between having something work, and having something work the way we want it to. Just having a computer that turns on isn't good enough - ours also need to automatically log in, track time, connect to printers and the internet, and protect the user's privacy and data. And ideally, do all this without intervention from the user.

On the surface, the answer above might sound like our goal was keep the computers safe from the public. The goal is actually to make sure the public needs to do as little as possible to use our computers (making sure they can do no harm is a side effect).



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