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




Political Parties and Technology

   July 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Donkey and Elephant political iconsI noticed this interesting juxtaposition of the difference in the way the Democratic and Republican parties are approaching technology at campaign events.

The Arizona Star reported that the GOP wanted to prevent any attendees of a Tucson fundraiser from recording the event, out of fear of what might show up on YouTube. Bush himself asked the attendees to turn off all recording devices, and was quoted as saying

I don't know a lot about technology...but I do know about YouTube.

On the other hand, an email from the Obama campaign goes in the exact opposite direction. The email mentioned an upcoming rally in Massachusetts on August 4th (Obama's birthday, incidentally), and read in part:

...remember to bring your camera and snap a few photos! You can share them with us at eventsforobama@gmail.com. We'll start posting photos soon!

Not that there is any one right way to approach technology, but I did find this contrast telling. The Bush Administration has a long reputation of trying to suppress and control information and keep things behind closed doors, whereas the Obama campaign has embraced modern technology and has put effort into learning it to use it to their advantage.

Politics is politics, but I am all for being encouraged to participate. Besides, I like taking pictures of things I do and places I go, and would kind of resent being told I couldn't because of someone else's misunderstanding or fear.



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Using Firefox On Our Public Computers

   May 8th, 2008 Brian Herzog

firefox logoMy library is in the process of re-doing all of our public computers. One major change we're making is to switch to Firefox for our web browser, instead of the Internet Explorer/Public Web Browser combo we've always used.

The reason we're switching is a simple one - Firefox is just cooler. It lets us have more control over how the browser functions, and lets us offer more tools integrated right into the browser. Better for us, better for patrons.

Here's a list of the customizations we're making:

Add-Ons

  • Public Fox - this is designed to make Firefox a public web browser, as opposed to being used and customized by a single, private person. We're using it to lock down add-ons, preference, about:config, and a few other things, as well as control what file types can be downloaded
  • Menu Editor - also for the control freak in us, this one lets us remove menus from the tool bar (we're getting rid of bookmarks, help and history)
  • Greasemonkey - one of my favorites, this lets us embed custom coding on webpages, such as a link from Amazon to our catalog, and helpful links on our catalog's "no search results" page (more info on those on our Tech Tools page)
  • Add To Search Bar - this fun one lets us easily add our library catalog right to Firefox's search bar. The other searches we chose to include are Google, Yahoo, Amazon, the Internet Movie Database, Answers.com, Wikipedia, and Merriam-Webster
  • IE Tab - For all of those "Best viewed in Internet Explorer" websites, this one lets you toggle back and forth between the Firefox and IE rendering engines, so IE-only pages and scripts will load in Firefox
  • Image Zoom - just like what it sounds, this adds zoom controls to the right-click menu, to make images bigger and smaller. This one is most useful to patrons who get emailed digital photos at 1024 x 768 resolution, which is too big for our screens. This lets them zoom out so they can see all of their grandchild's face at the same time
  • Update 5/30/08: Print Preview - We realized that we had forgotten to put the Print icon on the toolbar, and then that Firefox didn't seem to have a native Print Preview toolbar icon. This Add-On gives us the Print Preview icon

Options Settings

  • Turn off all automatic updates - we use Deep Freeze, so we do our own updates
  • Turn on smooth scrolling
  • Turn on check spelling
  • Set homepage to our Reference start page
  • Always save downloads to My Documents
  • Always show tab bar
  • Turn off all warnings, except when redirecting from secure to an unsecure page
  • Don't remember anything, delete cookies and clear private data when Firefox closes

Other Customizations

  • Disable mailto: links - one repeated tech question from patrons is "I want to send an email but I'm getting some connection wizard." This happens when someone clicks a "mailto" link on a webpage, and Outlook launches as the default email program. Since patrons need to log into their own web email to send messages, making nothing happen when someone click a mailto link is actually an improvement
  • We also took whatever steps we could think of to ensure computer security and patron privacy - this means not keeping any history, and making sure that when Firefox is started, it does not restore from a previous session
  • Update 5/30/08: Add the Print and Print Preview (see Add-Ons above) icons to the toolbar (we chose to use icons only and not text because it used less room)

A lot of these were judgment calls, and there is no single right way to adjust your settings. Also, there're lots of other useful Add-Ons out there too, and more at https://addons.mozilla.org. If you have any suggestions for security or usefulness that we didn't include, please let me know in the comments.

Update 5/15/08: I've had a couple questions about Public Web Browser, so I thought I'd elaborate. It is a great product that works with Internet Explorer (or other browsers, I'm guessing) to lock it down and make IE more applicable for a public library computer. It has always done exactly what it was designed to do, and the librarians who developed it provide wonderful service. Our switch to Firefox has nothing to do with PWB - we just prefer Firefox to IE.

Update 5/30/08: Added an Add-On and toolbar setting to make it easier for patrons to use Print and Print Preview.



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Upcoming Workshop: Library-Wide IT Proficiencies

   May 1st, 2008 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Comic StripToday I'm peddling a workshop that a committee on which I serve is holding in June. The committee is the Information Technology Section of the New England Library Association, and it'll be fun, and interesting. Check it out:

"Library-Wide IT Proficiencies"
The workshop is focused on teaching technology self-sufficiency, so library staff in every department can feel comfortable handling common technology issues. Using a "train the trainer" format, the presenters will emphasize sharing the practical knowledge and skills IT staff may take for granted. The goal is to reduce the fear factor many library staff have when dealing with common technology, from changing printer cartridges to navigating the network.

Date: Thursday, June 12, 2008
Location: Bryant University, Smithfield, RI (Directions to BU's Bryant Center)
Cost: NELA Members - $55 Non-members - $65

Program Schedule
8:30 Registration and Continental Breakfast
9:00 - 12:00 Part I: Proficiency, IT Staff and End Users
12:00 - 12:45 Buffet Lunch
12:45 - 3:00 Part II: Roadmap to Creating an IT-Savvy Library Staff
3:00 Questions and Program Wrap-Up

Each workshop attendee will receive a flash drive containing all presentation materials and handouts!

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

More About The Workshop
IT staff must be able to assist in maintaining a library-wide level of competence and confidence not only in using current IT resources, but also in learning new ways of working smarter. The workshop begins with the basic elements of end user education to promote departmental self-sufficiency and moves on to the higher level of assisting librarians with cutting edge technology awareness and use. Participants will receive tools, techniques and many ideas on ways to increase the IT proficiency of all library staff.

About The Presenters
Gary K. McCone and Grace R. Sines work in the Information Systems department of the National Agricultural Library. As Associate Director, Gary is responsible for the development, maintenance and quality Assurance of computer systems and NAL databases, and has significant experience in providing consultation for the establishment of libraries in developing countries. Grace, Deputy Associate Director for Information technology, has over 20 years of experience in managing information technology services, and has authored numerous Federal policies and procedures concerning the implementation and operation of information systems.

For more information, please contact Rick Taplin, ITS Chair at ITS@nelib.org or call 508-655-8008, x201.



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Webpage Highlighter Tool

   April 17th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Awesome Highlighter logoHere's a neat web tool I've been waiting to use ever since I read about it a few weeks ago on the Library 2.0 Ning group - the Awesome Highlighter.

It lets you highlight a portion of a webpage, send someone a link, and then they can see exactly what you highlighted. Great for virtual reference work, but also just good in general.

One of our more tech-savvy patrons emailed me asking if there was an easy way to search the Library's catalog right from book's page on Amazon. There is, using Firefox and Greasemonkey, and it is outlined on my Library's Tech Tools page.

But instead of just sending him the link to the Tech Tools page, I ran it through the Awesome Highlighter, so I could send him a highlighted page, with focus on exactly the portion of the page I wanted him to see. Not that he wouldn't have found it on his own, but it just makes it a little bit easier - especially the "jump to highlights" link at the top.

On the Ning page, there's some discussion about the highlighter working or not working depending on whether the user is signed in. I've only used it a couple times, but I haven't had any trouble. The great thing is that someone from the company is participating in the discussion, so hopefully whatever bugs do exist will be corrected as a result - much like Jessamyn's comments on SWIFT.

If we never speak up, then we'll never get tools that do exactly what we need (I'll refrain from inserting my ILS soapbox here).



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Computerless Email

   April 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Presto Email Printing ServiceOccasionally spam email messages catch my eye. I recently saw one with this subject: "Send Email and Photos to Loved Ones Who Don't Use a Computer."

I'm not promoting this service, but I think it's an interesting idea, and I'd never heard of it before. The company is Presto.com, and what they sell is a way to electronically communicate with someone who doesn't have email.

The product is a printer that plugs into a home phone line, and their service converts incoming emails into color printouts - with no user intervention.

The demo is worth watching, but how it works seems fairly simple. Each HP printer gets an email account (which is managed by someone who is comfortable with the internet), and in addition to printing messages from loved ones, the company also provides free content like crosswords, recipes, and newsletters. And since you control the "approved sender" list, it means no spam and no ads.

I keep thinking this might actually have a place in a library, but I can't exactly figure it out. I certainly would rather teach someone how to use email than give them a crutch, but lots of people don't have the time or desire to learn - but do want pictures of their grandkids.

The catch would be if each printer is only associated with one email address. If it could handle more, then this might be a service we could provide to patrons. They set up an account with us, and then we hold whatever printouts they receive just like we hold their requested books. That would definitely strengthen the library's sense of community, but perhaps this product is better suited for senior centers or retirement homes.

Besides, kids today are practically issued cell phone numbers and IM handles at birth, so this type of technology is probably pretty short-lived.



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My Tech-NO List

   March 4th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Royal Quiet De Luxe TypewriterI normally don't participate in memes. However, I am me-too'ing Jessamyn's tech-NOs post because I like the idea behind it.

A lot of librarians (and regular people) I know are hesitant to try new tech/web things because there is just so much out there and they feel they have to know about everything before they can try anything. That is absolutely not true.

Even though some people think of me as high-techy because I have a website and use flickr and bloglines, there is a lot I don't know about (and a lot I don't care about). My advice is to use tech tools to augment your life/work style, not change it; pick what you like and play with it, and ignore everything else.

So, to show off my low-tech side, here's my list of tech-NOs:

  • I do not have a microwave.
  • I don't use IM, except at work. And even there I'm more likely to phone or email than IM
  • I do not have a cell phone. I have one telephone, and it has a curly cord that plugs into the wall. I do not want a cell phone, and, in general, cell phones irritate me. Also, I have the same answering machine I've used since college, and it records to an analog cassette tape. I do not have caller id, call waiting, or anything like that
  • I do not have an iPod or other mp3 player. Why? I've never needed one. When I'm in the car I listen to the radio, CDs or tapes; when I go for a walk or hike or exercise, I think about whatever is on my mind
  • I do not have cable or satellite television. I have a television with an antennae*, and a VCR and DVD player, and I use it mostly for watching movies
  • My clocks have hands. I don't like digital clocks, so all the clocks in my house (except for the one built into the stove) are analog. I wake up to an alarm clock with two metal bells on top (I also have a bird clock*)
  • I do not have an ATV, snowmobile, or jetski. Instead, I have a mountain bike, cross-country skis*, a kayak, and hiking boots. I don't like exchanging effort for pollution (although I do have power tools)
  • I use an old-fashion twirly lawnmower. You know the kind I mean. It's fun
  • I really don't play video games. Sure, I play minesweeper and hearts, but not World of Warcraft, Second Life (I know, it's not a "game"), Guitar Hero, or any of the others. I'm interested in the phenomena of multi-user interactions in worlds like these, but I have no inclination to play them
  • I do not care about twitter. I just don't
  • I write letters in addition to emailing. I have an antique Royal typewriter* that I love using, and I fear the day the ribbon runs out
  • I do not use GPS. I like maps
  • I do not use air conditioning. I like open windows and fans
  • I have one credit card and I pay all my bills by mailing a check. I also enjoy going to the post office

I'm sure there's more, but that's good for now.


*In typing up this list, I realized that all of the *'d things were given to me by my younger brother. Thanks, Mike. And I still don't want a cell phone.



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