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


Options for Offering a Public Scanner

   July 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog

scanning stationMy library finally rolled out a service patrons have been asking for ever since I started: a public scanner.

Requests for a scanner always seemed to wax and wane, and we never got serious about it because of all the logistics involved: where do we put it, should the computer be scanning-only or have full internet access, should we get a simple flatbed scanner or a dedicated scanning product made for libraries, will the staff be able to assist patrons, etc. etc. etc. Recently, the requests have been coming in so consistently that we just bought a low-cost flatbed scanner, hooked it to a computer, and put it out on the floor.

We did do some research beforehand, asking around to see what other libraries did. And coincidentally, on the very day we put the scanner out for the public, another library sent around an email asking the same questions - and very kindly, she also compiled and shared the responses (thanks Becky!):

Most libraries have 1 flatbed scanner that is connected to a public computer. 4 libraries had more than 1 scanner, and 1 library had set up a switch so that 4 computers could share 1 scanner. A few libraries had the scanner in a staff location that was easy for both staff and patron to access.One library kept a scanner at the Reference Desk, and gave it to patrons to hook up to any available computer.

A few libraries used different products: a copier that can also scan, an all-in-one printer that can scan, and book scanners including the BookScan Station from MDS, and the Scannx BookScan Center from Scannx.

Scanner models mentioned were the Epson GT-1500 (which has a document feeder), CanoScan 4500F, Epson WF-4530, Epson V37, and Fujitsu ScanSnap.

Only one library mentioned charging for scanning, many libraries said they did not charge as there was no real consumable cost.

All libraries said the service was very well received with these comments: being able to scan color documents was well received, users could scan to USB, Google Docs, or email, some libraries install the scanner at a computer that is 15 minute only or a walk-up computer, patron assistance is often necessary for first-time users of the equipment.

We really, really, liked the dedicated scanning stations because they are so easy to use, but the cost was prohibitive (in the $5,000 neighborhood). The scanner we purchased was the Epson GT-1500, which is just connected to a desktop computer. Some details:

  • Scanner cost: about $250
  • Features: document feeder tray, easy-scan buttons on the front of the scanner (which we didn't end up using, unfortunately: the scan-to-email button quickly became a problem, and the others ended up not being entirely intuitive, so we just used desktop shortcuts instead)
  • Picture scanning: we use the included Epson scanning software for this, and it works surprisingly well with just the default settings
  • Document scanning: we use the included ABBYY Reader software, which gives the option to scan to either Microsoft Word (to edit a document like a resume) or right to PDF to save/email a document without changes
  • Bonus Feature: not only is this a new scanner service for patrons, but it also means we can now meet the needs of patrons needing to make color photocopies - just scan their original as a PDF, and then print directly to the color printer! An extra step, but it works

Like the image scanning, the OCR capabilities are surprisingly good. In all the testing we did, there was not one mistake (all test scans were from printed pages, not handwriting). Anything it can't OCR is automatically scanned as an image, and the formatting in both the resulting PDF or Word document were impressive. Word did not carry through colored text, but that is easy enough to re-do.

Something else that impressed me was with the document feeder: I deliberately fed in sheets in opposite directions (as in, sheet one right-side up, sheet two upside-down, etc), to see what it would do - and the software was smart enough to orient them all right-side up and OCR the text with no mistakes.

We put out a couple instructional signs with the scanner to match the desktop shortcuts (Scan a Picture [pdf] and Scan a Document [pdf]), and we'll see how it goes. Staff picked it up quickly, and we can always adjust/improve the patron signs after we see where the stumbling blocks are.

We're also starting off with the policy of "scanning gets preference" at this computer, although it does have the same capabilities as all our other public workstations. We put a little sign saying,

Patrons needing to use the scanner have priority!
If you are not scanning you may be asked to move to a different computer.

And so far it hasn't been a problem. This is a stand-up computer, which we're hoping will facilitate the just-need-to-scan-something-quick patrons.



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An Anecdotal Experiment With Privacy

   March 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog

For the last few years at my library, our public computers all looked the same - Windows XP with a custom wallpaper displaying instructions on how to print. Our setup looked like this:

Wallpaper with printing instructions

A month or so ago, we upgraded to Windows 7, and thought we'd also change the wallpaper.

Our goal in this was to improve patron privacy. The timer software we use is Time Limit Manager (TLM), by Fortress Grand (the little "Time Remaining" clock at the top of the screen above). I like this software because it is very customer service oriented, and patrons don't need to log in with a barcode to start their session - they can just sit down, click "I Agree" to our policies, and go. The timer is basically a courtesy reminder, and for the most part we can get away with using the honor system (TLM does offer additional features for when push comes to shove).

But the main problem we were seeing wasn't that people wouldn't leave the computer - it was that patrons weren't ending their session when they left the computer. This set up the scenario where a second patron could come along and just continuing using the session of the previous patron.

This never caused a real problem in my library, but the potential was there, so we thought the upgrade would be a good time to address it.

With the Windows 7 rollout, we designed new wallpaper, hoping to prompt people end their session when they were finished with the computer. The new wallpaper looks like this:

Wallpaper with privacy reminder

The result? Absolutely no change whatsoever.

I didn't do a scientific survey, but just from the number of times staff has to end the session at an abandoned computer, the privacy reminder didn't seem to affect anyone at all.

I can't believe people aren't seeing this message, so it's tough not to conclude that, at least in my library, most patrons don't care much about their privacy.

So, I wanted to ask the question here - what do other libraries do to get patrons to end their session?



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/22/09

   February 28th, 2009 Brian Herzog

zoomtext large print keyboardThis question actually took place months ago, but was only recently resolved.

An elderly patron came to the desk and asked about email. She said her grandchildren all wanted her to get an email address, but she didn't know anything about computers.

I took her over to a computer, intending to help her sign up for an email address. However, when the patron said her eyesight was too bad to read the computer screen, I decided to move to our large print workstation.

The "large print" workstation is more or less the same as our regular computers, except that it has a much larger monitor, and it has the Zoomtext software to make reading the screen more comfortable for people with low vision. The other difference is that it is located in our large print room, so the atmosphere is more quiet and calm than the computer area.

We sat down, and I fiddled with the mouse and keyboard to adjust the screen text so it was at a size she could read comfortably. At that point, I sat back and started saying things like "okay, now use the mouse to point the arrow there..." and "type mail.yahoo.com in the white bar..." I could tell the patron was understanding what I was saying, but was still having trouble.

I asked her if the screen was clear enough, and she said,

I can see the words on the screen just fine, but I can't make heads or tails of the keyboard.

It turned out, even though we tricked-out the software, we neglected to make one very important piece of hardware "large print." The keyboard was the same type we used on the regular computers, and the small white-on-black keys were just not something this patron could read.

I brought this up with the library's IT person, and she asked our Friends group to purchase a real low-vision keyboard. It took a few months, but they came through, and we have a new Zoomtext large print keyboard hooked to the large print computer.

It's kind of an embarrassing oversight - at least it was for me when I was trying to help this patron. I don't expect to be able to anticipate every need and requirement, no matter how hard we try - that's why it's important to get feedback from real patrons (and pay attention to it and act on it).

I've seen some patrons using the new keyboard, and the few I've talked to are extremely happy with it. They'd been making due with the old one, and it never occurred to them to ask for something else. I feel better knowing there is one less barrier for these patrons, but one older gentleman summed it up perfectly:

It used to be that typing was a struggle, but now email is actually fun. Or rather, it probably will be when I understand what I'm doing.



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Library Public Computer Profile

   June 10th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Library Public Computer DesktopThis is a follow-up post to "Using Firefox On Our Public Computers" - a few people have asked me what else we have on our public computers, so here is pretty much everything we're doing on our public workstations.

I'm really curious to hear what other libraries are doing on their public computers, so please share your library's public computer configurations in the comments section.

The Desktop

  • The Background Image - Instead of just having a solid color, we use the wallpaper image to tell patrons how to print (rather than taping the directions to the inside wall of each study carrel). And supposedly, black-on-white is easiest to read, and uses less energy
  • Directory Shortcuts - We have shortcuts to My Computer, My Documents and the Recycle Bin: My Computer so patrons can access their flash drive, CD or floppy disk, and My Documents to save their work to the hard drive temporarily (see Deep Freeze below). We decided against a link right to the A: Drive, to discourage use of floppy disks
  • Resolution Switcher - We were having trouble balancing the patrons who wanted 800x600 resolution against the growing number of websites designed for 1024x768, so I was very happy when the library's IT person found ResSwitch. This free program allows patrons control the screen resolution right from the desktop - huge utility (and customer service) in a small package
  • Firefox Internet Browser - Read more about using Firefox
  • Microsoft Office - We offer Word, Excel and Powerpoint 2003 (and installed the Office 2007 file converter). We've talked about switching to OpenOffice, but MS Office is cheap for libraries and our patrons are comfortable with it
  • Meebo Instant Messenger - We put a direct link to meebo.com because so many patrons use it socially or for group work. Also, providing this link is easier than installing and keeping up-to-date local copies of the popular IM services
  • Quick Launch Desktop Shortcut - Just to make the whole desktop cleaner, we decided against loading up the Quick Launch toolbar (by the Start button) with all the offered programs. Instead, we just put the link to the Desktop there, which, after they learn what it is, I've seen patrons using
  • CD Burning with Roxio - A few of our public computers have CD burners, and we use Roxio to handle this. I think it came free when we bought them from Dell, but is now an upcharge. Roxio works well (with a handout we made up), but instead of paying for additional copies, we'll use use XP's native CD burning

Time and Print Management

  • Time Limit Manager - Up until May 2008, we used Library Geek for our timer software. It worked very well for our needs, but it didn't provide statistics. We switched over to Time Limit Manager from Fortress Grand because it accomplished most of what we wanted and gave statistics. We don't require any kind of sign up or sign in, and set the session time for 60 minutes.
    • What I Like About TLM
    • One really nice feature of TLM is that it lets the patron automatically go into "extra" time if not all the computers are in use - we liked this because we thought it was unnecessary to kick patrons off if there were other computers available
    • The countdown clock always shows at the top of the screen (although sometimes I feel like it is pressuring me to be efficient)
    • When a session is up (and all other computers are in use), TLM automatically logs the computer out. This means that if someone was just sitting there chatting online, it closes everything to give them more incentive to give up their computer to someone else. Also, though, just logging out (rather than rebooting) means that any work saved in My Documents will still be there at the next log in
    • Supposedly there's a way to end all session when the library closes (or better yet, five minutes before), but we haven't figured this out yet
    • What I Don't Like About TLM (so far, at least - take all of these with a grain of salt, because I'm still learning the program)
    • The timer can't be turned off at the workstation - extra time is given via the console installed on the reference desk computers
    • This control console is a bit clunky, but it gets the job done
    • The statistics provided are somewhat cumbersome - there's no way to easily see which computer is used the most, or what day/time is the busiest (at least, none that I've found yet)
  • Printing - We use LPT:One from EnvisionWare, and it meets our needs. We just recently added a color printer for patrons to use ($0.15 for B&W, $0.25 for color), but are still looking for a way to allow wireless printing
  • Printing to PDF - To allow patrons to create their own PDF files from any program, we installed PDFcreator. It shows up in the printer selection dropdown box, and creates a pdf file patron can then save to disk

Extras and Other

  • Windows Media Player - We chose to go with WMP because it comes with XP, and works well enough for playing streaming content or music CDs patrons bring in. No desktop shortcut, though, so it only is launched when it is called for by filetype
  • Adobe Reader, Flash Player, et. al. - It's always a challenge keeping up with the latest versions of all the plugins patrons need, but that's life on the internet. Something we learned, after installing the latest versions, was to open them to get rid of all the annoying "I Agree" windows before turning on Deep Freeze
  • Screensaver - We decided to go with the standard XP picture slideshow screensaver, but we use it to promote library services and upcoming events. We pointed all the computers to the same network directory where we save jpg images for events (example), and then delete them after the event passes. It was a bit tricky to make the screensaver show up properly while the computer was logged out, but we eventually got it. When we upgrade to an RSS-compatible events calendar, we'll probably switch to a screensaver that can display that RSS feed
  • Locking Everything Down - For this, the library's IT person uses a three-pronged strategy:
    1. Microsoft Group Policies, for controlling patron access to the computer itself
    2. Symantec Enterprise Antivirus to keep out virus and malware
    3. Deep Freeze, from Faronics, to make sure that when we turn the computers on each morning, they are exactly the same as when we turned them on the previous morning. This also means that anything patrons save to My Documents will be erased when the computer is restarted - this is good for privacy reasons, but can also be disappointing for the patron who comes back three days later wondering where their resume went (but this is usually a mistake patrons only make once). There are similar programs out there, but we've never had a problem with Deep Freeze, so we stick with it
  • Cloning - Once a disk image is configured the way we want it, the library's IT person used Symantec Ghost Solution Suite to clone it to all of our public workstations. It took her some trial and error to figure out the right order for installing software, but any time this does manage to save is worth it

I should also point out that, as Head of Reference, I am, at best, just a supporting role for computer maintenance. It's the library's Head of Technology that does the hard work, turning what I think patrons might need into things patrons can actually use. I'm lucky to work with someone who puts as much emphasis on customer service as I do - thank you, Barbara.



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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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