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




Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/09

   January 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

worderror1We can learn a lot from our patrons.

One of our regulars spends most of his time surfing the internet and then copy/pasting things he likes from web pages and email messages into Word files. He carries around four or five flash drives, and his Word documents can sometimes be 200+ pages long.

And of course, he runs into problems. He called me over the other day, because he was seeing an error when trying to open one of his files. I had never seen it before, but (surprisingly) it gave very clear instructions on how to fix the situation - using something in Word that I had never noticed before.

The problem is that, when he copies things from a web browser, Word doesn't just copy the text and images. Word copies all of the underlying HTML code, too, and tries to recreate the tables. The chance of copying all of the necessary code is very slim, so when the file is saved and reopened, Word says the tables are corrupt.

worderror2But so far, Word's built-in "Open and Repair" option has worked every time. I find it annoying that Word tries to handle HTML, but at least they included a fix for it - I wonder how many other problems this can fix. And I wonder what other useful gems lie undiscovered (by me)

After I walked through this with the patron, he's been able to do it himself, and is very happy.

But the real fix might be to install the Copy Plain Text add-on for Firefox on our public computers and show him how to avoid the problem all together.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/24/08

   March 1st, 2008 Brian Herzog

Microsoft Office logoThis is a question I've gotten in various forms, and I finally have an answer for it. Usually, the reference interview goes something like this:

Patron: I can't open a file on your computer.
Me: Oh; what kind of file is it?
Patron: It's just my resume. My sister updated it for me on her new computer, but her printer is broken, so I came here to print it out. But now it won't open. It works fine at her house.

The two key parts of the patron's last statement are resume and new computer. These words almost always indicate a Word document created on a Microsoft Vista computer running Office 2007. My library's computers have Windows XP and Office 2003, which cannot open Office 2007 documents due to the change in file formats.

That is, until now.

Our IT person found a plugin that will allow Office 2003 programs to open Office 2007 files. This plugin is available from the Microsoft download center.

We have installed this on the computers at the reference desk, but not yet on all the public computers (we are changing the profiles on all of those, and this plugin will be part of it). And of course, since installing it, I haven't gotten this question again.

But we'll be ready for the next patron...



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