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

Reference Question of the Week – 2/2/14

   February 8th, 2014 Brian Herzog

syllabus shirtLate one morning, a male patron in his twenties comes up to the desk with what looks like a college course syllabus. He points to one of the assignments, which is listed as a 400-1000 word essay, and asks me if the computer can count the words for him.

Okay, that's easy. I walk back over to his computer with him, have him open Word, and show him the counter in the bottom-left corner.

The patron thanks me, and says that he's nervous because the essay is due that night.

After walking back to the Reference Desk, I glance over at him as I sit down, and his computer screen is visible to me. In just the time it took me to walk across the room, he'd already opened YouTube and was watching some clearly-non-homework-related video.

Study breaks are part of the learning process (it was Minesweeper that got me through library school), but it's funny to take them right at the beginning.

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Did You Know There Are Audiobooks On YouTube?

   January 9th, 2014 Brian Herzog

I saw this tweet yesterday from @librarythingtim:

Audiobook listeners: Do you find yourself listening to audiobooks on YouTube sometimes rather than buying them? http://twtpoll.com/huckvsm1sxqgz9j

I had no idea there are audiobooks on YouTube (and according to Tim's subsequent tweets, I wasn't the only one). Yet sure enough, a simple search for "audiobook" on YouTube is very promising:

YouTube audiobook search results

However, like many other nice internet resources, I suspect this might be less-than-legal - and disclaimers like this aren't kidding anyone:


Especially with the built-in spam link - that seems to indicate this may not be long for this world.

However, audiobooks on YouTube - who knew? Well, Tim did, and I bet a lot of other people too. And since it's likely these are very transient, I bet the people who know they are there benefit from websites to convert YouTube videos as mp3 files, and keep them forever.

The internet really is the wild west of intellectual property.

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Reference Question of the Week – 12/1/13

   December 7th, 2013 Brian Herzog

headphones required signI've seen some weird things while helping with tech support, but this is really one of the weirdest damn things I've ever encountered.

For awhile now, we've been getting complaints about YouTube videos not working on some of our computers. The problem has been easy to reproduce, because, sure enough, the video will play for a second and then the viewer window goes black/staticy and displays a "video cannot play" error.

Usually the culprit is an out-of-date browser or plugin, but even with the latest versions the problem persisted. Searching online didn't really turn up anything useful. I got so frustrated that I had to go to my second-to-last-resort, YouTube's help suggestions - still nothing.

Finally, I went to my last resort, asking our IT person to take over the problem because I wasn't making any progress. It baffled her too for a little while, but after some more online searching, she came up with a fix: plug in the headphones.

I believe our computers automatically mute their speakers when headphones are unplugged (so as not to play sound otherwise, which may bother the patrons around them). YouTube must be looking at some sound setting in the computer and doesn't like not having available speakers, and so just doesn't play the video at all. But if you have headphones plugged in before the video starts, it works just like it should. I have no idea why YouTube videos would not play without this, but there you go.

I don't understand it, but it works, so maybe I don't need to. Just, thank goodness for smart coworkers.

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YouTube Shortcuts

   May 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Fast Forward buttonI am by no means a YouTuber, so the tips I just figured out might be common knowledge, but I thought I'd share anyway.

Do you ever want to link right to a specific spot in a YouTube video? Say a video is five minutes long, but the part you want to highlight starts at 3:14 - I knew there must be a way to start the video right at 3:14 so people didn't have to sit through the beginning portion.

After a bit of web searching, I found two ways to do this - one for a link, and one for an embedded video. And to give my examples some context, here's our situation: You have a video of ten book reviews, and the review you wanted to link to (for Neil Gaiman's Interworld) starts 1 minute and 11 second into the video.

Link to Video
To create a link to start at a specific spot in a video, just add #t=0m0s to the end of the regular link url. Then, change the 0's to the minute and second you want to link to.

Embed a Video
Starting a video embedded in your webpage at a specific spot is a little more work.

  1. Grab the embed code from the video's YouTube page and paste it into your webpage where you want the video to appear. The code will look something like this:

    <object width="640" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ep9MI5Mc7tU&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ep9MI5Mc7tU&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="640" height="385"></embed></object>

  2. Put &start=71 at the end of both URLs shown in the code:

    <object width="640" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ep9MI5Mc7tU&hl=en_US&fs=1&start=71"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ep9MI5Mc7tU&hl=en_US&fs=1&start=71" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="640" height="385"></embed></object>

  3. Update 2/2012: YouTube also uses <IFRAME> to embed videos. In this case, the code will look like this:

    <iframe width="550" height="330" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/yyy8gYkU2TY#start=227" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

  4. Notes:
    • You have to translate the start time into just seconds - so 1 minute and 11 seconds becomes 71 seconds
    • A lot can happen in 1 second, so the content you want might actually start in between 1:11 and 1:12 - I don't think you can fine-tune any more than seconds. Another hiccup could be the way video files are encoded, so the start point might not always be exactly split-second precise every time
  5. Enjoy:

The next logical step for this example is to also set a stop time. YouTube doesn't seem to have a native way to do that, but both Splicd.com and Apture.com's Builder provide this feature. Neat.

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Video Everywhere

   November 6th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Too Much Joy's Donna Everywhere videoIn the last few weeks, I've seen a lot of announcements concerning video content being added to online resources. Both InfoTrac and NewsBank have recently made email announcements about content they've each added to their databases.

InfoTrac added many full-text resources to the General and Academic OneFiles, some of which include video segments. NewsBank's announcement was more thorough - here's an excerpt from the email:

In response to the rising demand in libraries, NewsBank is adding video news content to our online news resources-at no additional charge to our customers. The complete package from respected media distributor Voxant includes the following sources: The Associated Press, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, as well as coverage from Canadian Broadcasting, Agence France Press and more. Your institution will have access to video clips from all or a select group of these sources, depending on your subscription.

Beginning on Monday, October 20, the videos clips will be added to NewsBank resources. Users will be able to:

  • Play news videos within the NewsBank interface, in the same space used to display text articles
  • Select specific videos from a comprehensive results lists that also includes NewsBank articles, or restrict their search to "video only"
  • Access recent and archived news videos at your institution or remotely
  • Email links of specific videos to friends, or embed them in a presentation

I find it curious that they say this is in response to demand from libraries. From the few tests I did, most of this newly added video content is already available free online, so I'm not sure where this demand was coming from (or why the vendors choose to listen to this particular demand instead of other things libraries have been demanding).

If a patron wants to watch a news show online, I can't see myself showing them how to navigate the library website to find the right database, log in with their library card, navigate the database for the right title, and then find the episode. It is just easier for me and the patron to use the station's own website or YouTube as a resource.

And speaking of YouTube, Library Stuff linked to a YouTube announcement on c|net today: "YouTube will begin offering feature films produced by at least one of the biggest Hollywood movie studios possibly as early as next month." Combine that with Hulu.com and other websites, and that's a lot of available video content.

For the database vendors though, I would prefer they concentrating on making their resources more user-friendly and useful by "uniquing" them, instead of providing content that is already available from other sources.

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Political Parties and Technology

   July 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Donkey and Elephant political iconsI noticed this interesting juxtaposition of the difference in the way the Democratic and Republican parties are approaching technology at campaign events.

The Arizona Star reported that the GOP wanted to prevent any attendees of a Tucson fundraiser from recording the event, out of fear of what might show up on YouTube. Bush himself asked the attendees to turn off all recording devices, and was quoted as saying

I don't know a lot about technology...but I do know about YouTube.

On the other hand, an email from the Obama campaign goes in the exact opposite direction. The email mentioned an upcoming rally in Massachusetts on August 4th (Obama's birthday, incidentally), and read in part:

...remember to bring your camera and snap a few photos! You can share them with us at eventsforobama@gmail.com. We'll start posting photos soon!

Not that there is any one right way to approach technology, but I did find this contrast telling. The Bush Administration has a long reputation of trying to suppress and control information and keep things behind closed doors, whereas the Obama campaign has embraced modern technology and has put effort into learning it to use it to their advantage.

Politics is politics, but I am all for being encouraged to participate. Besides, I like taking pictures of things I do and places I go, and would kind of resent being told I couldn't because of someone else's misunderstanding or fear.

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