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


Reference Question of the Week – 10/17/10

   October 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Volunteer facts bookmarkThis week's question is actually one I needed to answer myself - it's a little bit random, so bear with me.

My library just held our annual thank-you dinner for all of our adult volunteers. To illustrate "the value of volunteers" (in other words, how much money volunteers save us) my director and I came up with a "volunteer stats" bookmark* [ppt, 1.2MB] to hand out.

We had 241 volunteers last year, with a total of 5804 volunteer hours. We figured if we paid them each $15/hour, their labor would have cost the library $87,060. Just to add another little fact to the bookmark, I wanted to figure out just how tall $87,060 was in $100 bills.

So of course, I turned to the internet. I did a search for something like how tall is a stack of money, and after clicking on a few results, I found a forum posting that provided the Excel formulas needed to calculate not just the height of a stack of bills, but also the cubic volume and value of different denominations. Neat.

I copy/pasted the formulas into an Excel spreadsheet* [xls], and after a little tweaking, had my answer. And just to double-check it, I went back to the internet to find a "known value" (in this case, the height of $1 million in $100's). It checked out, so I had my fact for the bookmark, and a job well done, right?

Well, not so fast: being me, I thought, "hey, wouldn't it be awesome to turn this Excel spreadsheet into a web form that other people could play with? After all, that was so popular the last time."

Volunteer bookmark front

But this was all happening late in the day on Thursday, and I didn't have time to figure out how to convert the Excel formulas into javascript. So once again, I turn to the internet, thinking, "I just bet there's some easy spreadsheet-to-javascript converter out there."

And it turns out, there is: I found SpreadsheetConverter.com, which does exactly that. After you download the software, it converts spreadsheets to a web-ready format with just a click of a button - pretty neat.

But even better was their free demo offer, where you email them your spreadsheet and they convert it for you. Within 24 hours they sent back the converted webpage, and it works great - just enter the height** of your money stack below, and the spreadsheet tells you the value of various denominations, for both a single stack and a cubic block of bills.

One condition of the free demo is that it is for evaluation purposes only, so evaluate away and keep this tool in mind if you ever need to throw a spreadsheet up on your website - it can save you a lot of time. Too bad I didn't know about it when I was coding the Library Use Value Calculator.

The thank-you dinner went well, and the bookmarks were a big hit. Yay for volunteers.

 


*Feel free to download, edit and reuse our volunteer bookmark* [ppt, 1.2MB] or the Excel spreadsheet* [xls] if you like.

**This was designed to figure out height in inches - to use different measurements, the form below will convert those values into inches:




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Using The Tools At Hand

   July 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Volunteers logoA project we've been kicking around at my library for a long time is creating some kind of town-wide centralized volunteer listing. The library is a natural place for such a resource, but it's a big project.

To fill this need, we just launched ChelmsfordVolunteers.org. The end product was not really the goal we set out with - and I don't think it's the last version of the resource, either.

Originally, we wanted a tool that would list groups in the area that need volunteers, and also a calendar of upcoming events with volunteer opportunities. We also wanted the local organizations to be able to update their listing and event information themselves, without any library staff intervention.

As part of a grant, a local high school student explored a few different software options. We started with a WordPress version, then a Drupal version, then a WebCalendar version, but we kept running into the same problem: the tool did either the database part well, or the events calendar part well, but not both. Each solution also had other pros and cons, which is why we kept looking at different options.

The current iteration of volunteer listing actually uses two existing tools, which are combined under one domain name (chelmsfordvolunteers.org). From a single web page, we link to each tool, but tried to make it look like it was all integrated together.

The two tools are the Community Information database, which is run by the consortium and is (supposed to) list all non-profit groups in all communities of the consortium. I edited the records of the Chelmsford organizations to make sure they all had a reference to "volunteers," and these records provide all the contact information for the groups.

The other tool is the Calcium Calendar from Brown Bear. The library has been using this as our main events calendar for years, so it was easy to set up another one just for volunteer events.

Between these two tools, we've got both an events listing and an organizations database, although they are not connected. Using Comm Info is nice in that we don't need to maintain two records for each organizations, but we are limited at the same time to only non-profit groups - which excludes some hospitals and other businesses that offer volunteer opportunities.

Another drawback of the current setup is that the organizations do not have direct access to update their information and events. We set up two web forms to handle submissions and updates, but it's an extra layer and more of a hassle for everyone involved than it needs to be.

But it works, and it's better than nothing until we find the ideal solution. So if anyone knows of a tool that will fill this need, or another library doing something similar, I would appreciate hearing about it.



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Building a Bridge

   April 29th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Conservation Commission trail markerWhen I'm not at the library, I volunteer as a land steward with the Chelmsford Open Spaces Stewardship program. We build and maintain trails on the public lands managed by the Chelmsford Conservation Commission.

Mostly the work is small clean-up projects and just keeping the trails clear of debris. But this morning, we actually built a bridge (see photos).

Over the winter, a new green trail (indicated by the color of the letters on the trail marker signs like the one in the photo) was built at the Lime Quarry. The last step was to build a bridge to span a small stream, so a bunch of us met at 9am on a Sunday morning.

After all the materials were carried the half-mile from the parking area to the stream, it only took us about an hour to actually build the bridge. There ended up being 12 volunteers for maybe a four-person job, but between the extra help and having all the wood pre-cut, the job was a breeze.

If anyone is in Chelmsford and would like to walk these trails, let me know. Or, look around in your own communities for trails and parks, either maintained by the town or city department or by private or volunteer groups. Help maintain and preserve these public lands if you can, but by all means, go out and enjoy them.

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