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

Reference Question of the Week – 4/25/10

   May 1st, 2010

Light bulb going on over headI know I'm late to the party on a lot of things. Sometimes I'll even know about the party, but it just doesn't occur to me to show up - until it suddenly does.

I don't mean to be cryptic - I'm just trying to be creative about to introducing you to my stupid side.

This week's reference question is one that I've been asked occasionally since the late 1990's (way before my library days). The question is this:

How do I get a list of the names of all of the file that are on my disk?

In Windows, I had never found a good way to do this, which meant either using a screenshot, or typing out all of the file names, or, on each file, Right-click > Rename then highlighted the text and Copy. I think other OS's, even DOS, do a better job of this, but or public workstations are limited to Windows.

But when a patron asked me this question this week, this very obvious workaround popped up out of nowhere: just browse to that disk using an internet browser.

When we plugged her flash drive into the computer, the contents of the drive popped up in a Windows Explorer window. I right-clicked on the Address bar and copied the directory path:

Files on Flash Drive

Then I pasted that path into Firefox's address bar and hit Enter (this will work for any directory, folder, floppy disk, CD, etc.). The contents of the flash drive were displayed, and I could highlight and copy the file names:

Files in Firefox

In this case, the patron wanted to paste the list into an email message, so I pasted them into Notepad to show them below:

Files pasted into Notepad

She had to delete the "File:" that was tacked on to the beginning of each file name, and I think she deleted some of the file details. This was much better than having to retype all of the file names, so she was happy about it.

I have no idea why this never occurred to me before - I guess this question can be filed under "eureka" and crossed-referenced under "d'oh."

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9 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 4/25/10”

  1. Chrissy Says:

    That’s a neat trick, I will keep that in mind. Another way to do this, if you have Textpad (beefier, far more useful version of Notepad), is to open all files up in Textpad (even if they are not text) and use the Copy File Names command.

  2. george Says:


    dir /b > files.txt

    open files.txt on the G drive 🙂

  3. Kersten Says:

    wow – too cool – i totally didn’t know this and i just passed it on to another coworker! cool!

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Chrissy: I did not know that. Although, it could get unwieldy with some of our patrons.

    @george: Thanks – but unfortunately, we have Start->Run locked down on our public workstations, so patron’s can access it. I’ve done it at the desk for people before, but I like showing people things they can do themselves.

    @Kersten: You are welcome – I’m just sad it took me this long to realize it.

  5. Kathleen Says:

    Very cool! Many’s the time I’ve wanted a quick way to do this.

    FYI, for hard copy, you can – obviously – just print the list from the browser window, or if you have Adobe Acrobat on the computer, “print” it to a PDF. The file names will be hyperlinks in the PDF, too.

  6. Sharon Adley Says:

    Is the light bulb (on your head) LED? It doesn’t look like a normal incandescent.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Sharon: That’s not actually me, just a Creative Commons photo I found to illustrate my post – I am a far less attractive model.

  8. r e riker Says:

    FWIW, the link to this MS article, “How to add the Print Directory feature for folders in Windows XP, in Windows Vista, or in Windows 7” — http://support.microsoft.com/kb/321379/en-us — was in the paid version of Windows Secrets Newsletter (2010-06-17)

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @r e: Thanks for the tip – I’ll read through it and see if I can get that set up on at least out desk computers.