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

Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/09

   April 11th, 2009

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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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 4/5/09”

  1. Caitlin Says:

    Good to know. Though, I don’t suppose that many people ever reach that limit.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Catlin: no, probably not, because that is a lot of files. But if anyone is going to reach that limit, it does make sense that it’ll be a public library patron – most of the people who ask me for help seem to know just enough to be dangerous. They’re also the most fun to teach a better way of doing things.

  3. Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Says:

    […] browsing on a new found blog, the Swiss Army Librarian (aka Brian Herzog), I learned something I didn't know about saving files to a Flash Drive. […]

  4. wodsirk Says:

    Okay, you’re not going to believe this, but this question came up today. Happened with someone who always uses files off the flash drive instead of saving to the PC then back to the flash drive.
    So now I’m just clicking around while it’s slow at the desk, I found your blog and learned something both cool and useful.