October 31st, 2015 Brian Herzog
This isn't a reference question, but this whole scenario is a service provided by the Reference Desk (usually without incident) that this time ended up being a it's-funny-because-it's-true series of problems.
So, test proctoring. We do it so often that I created a little info webpage to answer general questions and make us look legit. We probably average one exam or so a week over the course of a year, which feels like a lot to me for a public library.
And of course, with this many exams, we deal with a variety of students and schools. It's mildly interesting to me how almost every school has their own process - 80% of which are totally fine and normal, 10% are oddly casual, and 10% are absurdly difficult.
In this case, the process was unnecessarily difficult. Usually, our process is to have the student tell us when they're coming in for the exam, and the school will send us the test (or login information for online tests) a week or so in advance.
Unfortunate Thing #1 with this situation is that the school's policy is to send us the exam 30-45 MINUTES in advance. That's cutting it close at the best of times, and, to me, seems entirely unnecessary. But it's their test, so okay.
However, Unfortunate Thing #2, the test was scheduled for 5:30pm. My shift ended at 5:00, which would have been no problem since the test should arrive 30-45 minutes early. But 5:00 comes, and my coworker reminds me the test hasn't arrived yet. In my library, any Reference staff person can proctor tests, but I am the primary coordinator so all tests are sent to my email or mailed to my attention.
Oh, and the student had come in about 4:45 wanting to start early, and kept hanging around the Reference Desk looking at us like we clearly were too incompetent to manage something like handing her pieces of paper. I would call this Unfortunate Thing #3, but it's a patron prerogative to come to the library whenever they want, and it's possible I was just projecting this look onto her - because she was actually very nice.
By 5:15 the exam still hadn't arrived in my email, so I call the contact I have for the school. Her phone rings and then goes to voice mail - that is not a good sign (Unfortunate Thing #4). I hang up and try calling the general number for the department - which also goes to voice mail. I look online and try to track down another number, and find a different number for the same academic department. Thankfully, someone answers that phone, and says the person who coordinates these tests has left for the day. Arrgh. But, she transfers me to someone else who she thinks can help.
That person apologizes that the test was never set, and said she'll have someone send it right over. Then, she confirms my FAX number.
Oh. Don't get me wrong, I fully support fax technology and love the fact that it is a service my library offers to the public. Because sometimes, it is the best tool for the job.
However, it is not the best tool in this case. Unfortunate Thing #5.
Regardless, I thank her, and then walk into our office and wait by the fax machine for the exam. After a few minutes, the fax machine comes to life and starts spitting out pages.
Spitting out might be overly-generous imagery - laboriously churning out pages is probably more accurate. After about five pages, at about a minute per page, I think, "okay, this must be about all of them," so I pick them up straighten them, and look at the cover sheet. It says,
Number of pages (including cover sheet): 26
Twenty-six! Holy smokes. Unfortunate Thing #6. And they faxed this to us! Emailing a PDF for me to print would have been So Much Less time. But, fax happens, and there's nothing for me to do but sit and wait it out. Meanwhile, through the office door's window, I can see the student waiting by the Reference Desk - still looking like we clearly were too incompetent to manage something like handing her pieces of paper (says I).
And then, Unfortunate Thing #7, one page later, the fax stops printing. That's suspicious, because I know it hasn't been 26 pages yet. I look at the fax's display:
Oh jeez. I don't even know if we have a backup toner cartridge for the fax machine, so I ask our office assistant if she knows where they are. She's only been here a few months, and said she has never changed one before, but goes to where we keep all our toner - and thank goodness comes back with something that looks right.
I've never replaced the fax toner either, but between the two of us, we take the old one out, put the new one in, and, again, thankfully, the fax machine picks up printing right where it left off.
It's about 5:45 by this point, so I take the first batch of pages out to the patron. At least that way she can get started, and I'll bring the rest in when they finally finish printing.
I hand them to the patron, and her response is priceless:
Me: Here's the first ten pages - the rest are still printing, but you don't need to wait until they're done to get started.
Patron: How many pages are there?
I wish I could explain the look on her face. It's really just 22 pages of test, because four of the pages were the cover sheet and exam instructions, but that didn't really help much.
So she goes off to get started, and I go back to the fax machine to wait.
Finally, just before 6pm, I take the rest of the test out to the desk and my coworkers gives it to the student in the study room.
And then, finally, I can go home - an hour late. Oh well.
Tags: exam, fax, libraries, Library, problem, problems, proctor, proctoring, public, Reference Question, student, test
December 17th, 2014 Brian Herzog
Here's something I really curious to learn more about: I've seen a lot of talk lately about driving-tests.org.
It's a website that offers free test prep for driver license exams, but what I keep hearing about is their library version. I think that version is the same as the free one, except it has no ads, and can also be branded with your library's logo (and obviously links directly to the exam for your state).
Check out their marketing email, but this banner pretty well sums it up:
It seemed interesting, so I poked around the free Massachusetts tests (mainly to see if I would pass it*). Some of the questions seemed so odd - and so very specific - that I really had no idea if they were actual laws or not.
Now, here's a tangent: one of our historically high-theft items is the MA Registry of Motor Vehicle's Driver's Manual. Anyone used to be able to get these free to study for the test, then they went to $5 and you had to pick them up at an RMV office. But then I couldn't even get them from an office, because they were always out when I went. And of course, if it's hard for us to get, it's also hard for patrons - and when I occasionally did get a copy for the library, it wasn't long before it went missing.
Which is why an online exam prep tool seemed like a good idea. But, not being an expert on MA traffic laws, I thought I'd ask the RMV if they've heard of it and if they considered it useful. I knew contacting the RMV like this was a long shot, but I was shockingly and pleasantly surprised.
Less than 24 hours after sending in my question through the RMV website's general contact form, I received this reply:
The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles does not license any online driver education programs, nor do we approve or disapprove of any online training programs. A student could not receive credit towards the mandatory training time by having taken an online program.
A very casual review of this particular web site leads me to believe that the content is not entirely accurate.
Please let me know if you have any other questions.
Wow, that was exactly what I was looking for. And since I had their attention, I did ask another question: how can libraries reliably get a copy of the Driver's Manual each year?
The same person emailed me back saying they didn't have any kind of standing order program, but to just email him our address and he would mail me a copy**. I did, and he did! I'm going to start doing this every year, too, because the Driver's Manual is a perennial request.
Now back to the main story: after our print copy of the Driver's Manual arrived, I decided to take the test again, this time trying to look up each question in the booklet to see if I could find the answer. I could, for all but two of them - and in every case where I did find the answer, it was correct.
I only did this for the MA Permit Practice Test 1, but that was better than I expected. It seems like a number of libraries have already signed on to their library version (here's Alameda (CA) Free Library, and I am really curious to hear about the experience of their patrons - does this website help prepare them for their driver's test? Do patrons benefit from the library version more than the regular free version?
If you have any experience with this tool, please leave a comment - thanks!
*I did not, the first time. But I re-took the same test the next day and did much better!
**Note to other MA librarians: I asked if it was okay for me to share his info with other libraries, and he said no problem. So contact me if you'd like his email address.
Tags: dmv, driver, driver's test, drivers, driving, driving-tests.org, exam, libraries, Library, ma, massachusetts, public, rmv, test
July 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog
We have lots of tutors that use the study rooms in the library. One of them emailed me for help looking for a test prep book for a particular exam:
I am trying to search for a practice book for the PRANCE exam- no luck.
If possible, please reserve one for me.
I searched the catalog, and sure enough there were no books for this test. I had never heard of this particular exam before, so I turn to the internet to find out more about it. However, my search for PRANCE exam turned up unexpected results.
You see, I was so focused on exam books that I was totally taken by surprise when the first search result was a YouTube video of two girls taking a prancing exam in a ballet school.
[Note: normally I'd embed the video here, but I don't want people to think I'm making fun of the girls. Of course, most graceful movements looks odd out of context - even Pranercising - but what I found humorous here was my own tunnel vision.]
Anyway, after watching an enjoying the video, I got back to work. None of the results looked like a test the tutor would be looking for, so I figured PRANCE must be a typo. The Google search results page helpfully listed some Did You Mean suggestions for both PRINCE exam and PANCE exam, so I checked them both out.
PRINCE looks like a project management technique used in the UK - probably not the right thing. But PANCE is a physician assistant certification test, which sounds much more appropriate.
I emailed the patron my results, but later that same day she came up to the desk. I explained the confusion, and she confirmed it was PANCE her student needed help with. We didn't have any PANCE prep books in the catalog, but that is one of the exams covered by the LearningExpress Library database, to which we subscribed. I showed her how to access the database and drill down to that exam, and she was very happy.
It wasn't until after she left that I realized my tunnel vision had struck again, also with - when coupled with my juvenile sense of humor - humor results. If you don't see why it's funny, try asking people if they'd like help preparing for their PANCE exam. Just, not in the library - you'll probably get thrown out for violating the Appropriate Library Behavior policy.
June 15th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Wednesday is my night to work at the library, and a couple hours before we closed I got an email from a coworker that just said,
I just took a picture that I think will be perfect for your blog. Ask me about it before you leave.
I had no idea what this might be, but at the end of the night, this was the picture from her phone:
She found this amusing because it looked to her that this patron was so desperate for help that she was willing to kneel before the desk (and pray?).
That is a funny thought, but when I explained to the rest of the evening staff what was really going on, they were even more amused.
So: around 2:30 that afternoon, a woman called in asking to reserve a study room for 7-9pm that evening, because she was proctoring a test for a student. No problem. Not 30 seconds after I hung up the phone, it rang again, this time a different woman asked to reserve a study room for her daughter, who was taking a test with a proctor.
I was quick on the uptake and asked if her daughter's name was the same one the proctor just gave me, and it was. Which, really, is just a funny little aside, and didn't really portend the communication difficulties to come.
The evening passd unremarkably. Seven o'clock rolls around and the proctor and student show up for their room.
About seven-thirty, the proctor comes out to the desk to ask if there is a way for her to print from her iPad. This perked me up a bit, because wireless printing is still new to us, and I am always happy when I can show it off. I gave her our little how-to handout, which she was satisfied with and went back to the room before I could help her with it.
About ten minutes later she was back, asking for help - and she was at the desk for the next half-hour. Here's what was going on:
- It turns out, she was proctoring a test for a foreign exchange student from Australia. The test the girl was taking had been emailed to the proctor, as a password-protected PDF (two of them, actually)
- She couldn't email the test to our wireless printer because it was a school iPad, and apparently could only send outgoing mail when it was connected to the school's network (this may or may not be true, but her email was definitely not working, and I wasn't going to change any of her school's settings playing around)
- After we got the wireless printing app installed, we still couldn't print because the PDFs were password protected, and the app just kept saying it couldn't access the file (but gave no provision to enter a password)
- She couldn't log into her school email from any other computer, because she couldn't remember her webmail password, and had left her school laptop at school
Sometime during our conversation, she also relayed that the test this girl was taking was some kind of Australian standardized test, which all Australian students must take - and must take at the same time. Which, of course, is Australia time, hence why they were in the library so late. Of course, the clock had already started, and we still hadn't even managed to print it yet.
The proctor was frazzled, the student was frustrated, and I, being functionally illiterate when it comes to Apple products, was running out of ideas.
But I know that if you start tapping things on an iPad other things happen, so this became my new strategy. When we just opened the PDF, it launched it Adobe Reader, which had limited export options*. However, at some point one of us noticed that her email had the option to move the PDF to iBooks, so we tried that.
Playing with it in iBooks, we found an option to email it with her personal (non-school) account, which miraculously did work. She emailed it to my library email, I opened the file at the desk, she entered the password, and thank goodness it printed okay. Repeat for part two of the test, and the girl was quickly to work - by about 8:20 pm.
All of this really was an ordeal to get through, compounded by the fact that the longer we screwed around, the less time the student had to take her test. My coworkers all appreciated this, and one remarked that she now understood why the woman was kneeling at the desk.
But no, that's not the reason. The proctor's shirt happened to have a very loose and floopy neckline, and if she leaned over towards the desk in the slightest, she'd be putting on quite a show. So, the entire time I was working with her, she kept using one hand to hold her shirt closed. And I don't know if you've tried it, but it is very difficult to try to operate an iPad while one hand is preventing a wardrobe malfunction.
Eventually, she just gave up and knelt in front of the desk, because at least that meant she didn't have to lean over. That was the point at which my coworker walked by.
So, amusing yes, but the story isn't quite over. At 8:55 pm I went to the study room to let them know the library was closing. Since I knew the student got a late start, I was going to offer to stay a bit past 9:00, if she needed just another ten or fifteen minutes to finish up.
The proctor said she appreciated that, but the test had another three hours(!) to go. Holy smokes. This town pretty much rolls up the sidewalks at 9pm, so I really have no idea where they were going to go to finish this test. I felt bad for them, but they were just happy to have the printed tests and said they'd figure something out.
And speaking of figuring something out, here's something I can't figure out: so, foreign exchange students usually go to the host country by themselves, right? So, when this student's mother called to reserve a room, she must have been calling from Australia. Huh.
*One option I never ruled out was opening the test on the iPad and just photocopying the screen. Luckily, we never had to implement this.
June 18th, 2011 Brian Herzog
One afternoon, three high school kids came up to the desk and asked if they could use one of the study rooms. I set them up, and then about a half hour later they came back with this question:
Do you have a book with SAT scores by town for all of Massachusetts?
I didn't think we would have anything in print with scores down to the town level, so I told them I'd search online. They said they had been and couldn't find anything - I told them I'd try anyway, and I'd come get them if I found something (said the librarian, with confidence).
The first place I went was the MA Department of Education website, but a search for SAT scores didn't provide statistics, just news articles about trends.
Next I tried a general web search for SAT scores by town Massachusetts, which did produce a Boston Globe article with scores by schools from 2006. Since this proved such data was available, I thought surely the DOE website must have something.
So I searched again limiting to site:doe.mass.edu (actually, at first I just typed in .gov, but it turns out the DOE website is a .edu - huh), and found the exact same Boston Globe data on the DOE website - plus data from previous years.
It always bugs me when Google's site: limiter search works better than a website's own native search, but at least I found something.
And finally, I searched around CollegeBoard.com to see if they had breakdowns of SAT scores. All I could find there were national percentile tables, but that seems like it might be useful, too.
I went to the study room to tell the kids what I found, and they were pretty happy. Of course, since everything I found was online, the only real way to get it to them was to get the email address of one of the girls in the group and email her the URLs - which seems a little awkward to me, but it worked well enough in this case.
This was the email I sent them...
From the Department of Education's website:
The same table a little easier to read from Boston.com:
And if you need general statistics on SAT test takers overall, that's
on the SAT website:
Let me know if you guys need anything else.
They stayed in the room for an hour or so more, and stopped by the desk to thank me on the way out. How nice.
May 6th, 2010 Brian Herzog
Here's something neat - and vital for library staff, both for those who directly provide computer help to patrons and for anyone else who uses a computer in their daily life:
A recent Slashdot post linked to a test to see how well people can identify spam, scam and phishing email messages (which can happen to anybody).
The test is provided by SonicWall, and would be a great for:
- taking as a group during a staff meeting or training day
- testing new employees to help protect your network and increase their tech competency
- showing to students and computer literacy classes to teach them to evaluate websites and email messages
After you're finished, be sure to click the "why" links on the test results to see exactly what looks suspicious and what are the red flags - that is the most helpful part of the test.
Tags: competencies, competency, email, libraries, Library, phishing, public, quiz, scam, scams, security, spam, test