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


Lost and Found Flash Drives

   January 24th, 2012 Brian Herzog

I feel like I've talked about this before, but it's something that continues to puzzle me. Every week or so we find flash drives left behind in the public work stations after patrons leave - here's what we've got in our Lost & Found bin now:

Found flash drives

Most of the flash drives we find get returned because our policy is to check the flash drive to look for a resume or something that has contact information in it.

But of the others, no one ever comes looking. And it seems that every time someone comes to the desk to ask if we found their flash drive, none of the ones we have belong to them. I find this odd.

Two other things I find interesting: one is the different kinds of drives people use (and the ones that are the same), as well as the different ways staff has of marking the drives as to when and where they were found (all our public workstations are named after authors).



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Spy-Tech Devices Found in Library

   February 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog

USB KeyloggerDid you read the story about a library in England that found two devices, designed to steal patron information, plugged into their computers?

It almost sounds like an urban legend, but even if it were it's still a good remind to all of us that this could happen anywhere.

The devices are USB keyloggers - someone would unplug the keyboard from the computer, plug the keyboard into this device, and then plug it back into the keyboard's USB port. With this device between the keyboard and computer, it can record every keystroke made on the computer - including websites visited, username/password combinations, credit information, etc.

The best defense against this is for library staff to check for these, or anything attached to a library computer that shouldn't be there. The article also suggest plugging keyboards into the front of computers, to make spotting them easier.

To notice something like this, of course, library staff must be familiar with what should and what shouldn't be there. I don't mean to be all preachy, but this is a good opportunity to familiarize staff who may not be really tech-savvy with library equipment. And another thing: take a few minutes today and check all of the computers in your library.

Thanks Dale for sending this to me, and it was also on LISNews.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/09

   April 11th, 2009 Brian Herzog

disk full error messageOne our regular patrons comes in with a ziplock bag full of flash drives, and then will spend hours copying text and images from websites into Word documents. He then saves these Word documents to the flash drives, and he also saves every email attachment he gets on the flash drives.

I trust this particular patron to know how to use a flash drive, so I was surprised one day when he comes up and said,

Your computer is giving me a flash drive error - it is saying it is full or write-protected, but it's not.

I went over to his computer, and sure enough, when I tried to save his file, I got the same error. I checked to make sure the drive wasn't physically locked, and also that it wasn't full - according to the properties, he had less than 30mb on a 1gb drive.

I was afraid the drive was corrupted somehow, so I took his drive back to the reference desk with me, telling him I'd look into it. A simple Google search for "can't save to flash drive" led to a thread on cnet forums.

The thread suggested this error can happen when you reach the upper limit on the number of files the root directory can hold. I had never heard of this before, so I took a look at his flash drive's root directory - sure enough, there were something like 700+ files in it.

I took the flash drive back to the patron and explained what I learned. The solution, I told him, is to temporarily cut/paste one file off of the drive to the computer, which will let us create a folder on the flash drive. Then, he can move files into the folder, and create additional folders, and start organizing files that way, instead of leaving everything in the root directory.

He did this, and it worked perfectly.

I had no idea disk directories had such limits, and I remarked to the patron that thanks to him, I learned something. This particular patron is always friendly and grateful for any help we give him. In this case though, he was extra cheerful - he spent the rest of the day letting everyone know that he taught me something.



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Still Selling Flash Drives

   May 13th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Flash drive imageAlmost exactly a year ago, we started selling flash drives at our reference desk. We did this because 3.5" floppy disks are becoming more and more unreliable and problematic, and CDs seem to be a mystery to most patrons.

We stopped selling floppy disks and CDs, and started selling 32mb drives for $5 each. When our source for them dried up, we had to scramble for something else. We thought a $5 flash drive, regardless of the size, was a pretty good deal – still cheap enough not to be prohibitive, and 32mb is still useful enough for people working on resumes and things like that.

But now we found an even better deal – 1gb drives for $8.

Our IT person sourced them through the local office of Corporate Express, and I think she was able to combine our non-profit status with some closeout deal on these to get that price. I think the $8 price tag is a little steep, especially for someone just wanting to save a couple documents, so I put more effort into selling the technology itself than selling drives.

As with everything, some patrons are slow to adapt, but some do recognize that these same drives sell for about $20 in stores, so they're happy. What I'm happy about is that we've been getting fewer requests for the $1 floppy disk, but even better is that we get fewer "I had all my resumes on this disk and now it won't open" type questions.

Don't PanicAnd since I like themed posts, I shall continue with the "drive" theme and say that I'm currently in Ohio, visiting my family for Mother's Day and my brother's birthday. I drove here, which means 20 hours (round trip) of audio books. Currently, I'm working my way through the Hitchhiker trilogy. I know this comparison has been made before, I think it's amazing how closely Wikipedia resembles the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (double emphasis here because it's the title of a book within a book by the same title): it has entries on almost everything, the entries are supplied by people out living in the world and writing what they know, it's accessible from almost anywhere, and when the entries are inaccurate, they can be wildly inaccurate.



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