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Reference Question of the Week – 1/1/12

   January 7th, 2012

As we have come to expect over the last couple years, the first few weeks after the Christmas holidays means a rather dramatic spike in the number of questions about ebooks. The effect this year seemed more profound that usual, which led me to this conclusion:

Tweet: I think "how do I download ebooks?" has just surpassed "where is the bathroom?" as the #1 reference question #timestheyareachangin

This year, my library planned a program on using ebooks with library resources for the first Saturday in January. The plan was for me to talk about Overdrive, and give live downloading demos for a Kindle, iPad, and Nook. Also, we invited a sales associate from the local Radio Shack to come talk about the non-library aspects of ereaders - buying ebooks, the differences between the devices themselves, and hopefully answer a few hardware tech support questions.

Our meeting room is big enough, and ereaders are small enough, that I didn't think just holding one up would really help people in the back see which buttons to press. I got the idea of using a camera, pointed at a Kindle or Nook, to project what I was doing to it up on a screen, to make it more visible. I have a little external webcam that I plugged into a computer, and clamped it so it's pointing straight down at a table (where the ereader will sit). Then I found this software called FSCamView which does nothing but take the feed from the webcam and display it full-screen on the laptop. Then, plugging the laptop into a digital projector shows whatever I put in front of the webcam up on the big screen. How could that go wrong?

And since my library is lucky enough to have two digital projectors, I also plan to have a second computer to project the Overdrive catalog. This way, hopefully, people (even in the back) will be able to watch me search the Overdrive, checkout an ebook, download and transfer it to the ereader, and simultaneously see it actually show up on the device.

Here's what the setup looked like 20 minutes before we started:

Presenting with two screens

We presented from the podium in the right corner. Slides (and websites) on the computer were projected onto the wall in the center by our in-the-ceiling projector, and the webcam/projector/ereader setup was on a little table next to the podium, projecting onto the screen on the left side of the photo - you can see an iPad up there now.

It worked well enough for our purposes, and I think people were happy to (sort of) see what we were doing. The problems we had were that the camera wasn't very high resolution, and the lighting was tricky - not to mention glare off the devices.

Even still, the program was a huge success. We had over 100 people in the room (which seats 80), and had to turn people away. On the spot we decided to hold a repeat program in a couple weeks for all the people who couldn't attend this one. I think everyone learned something, and many said that after seeing the steps it takes to download ebooks from Overdrive, they now understand and can do it themselves. Yay for that.

I'm going to keep fiddling with the webcam/projector setup, because there's got to be an easy way to improve that. Then it'll be fun to think of other programs that might benefit from projecting physical objects up on the wall. Hmm.

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6 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/1/12”

  1. Ariel Cummins Says:

    We definitely have seen an uptick in ereader questions, too. We have drop-in ereader help sessions once a week, and we’ve definitely maxed them out as of late. We’re really pushing having people make an appointment so we can have a member of the ref staff sit down with them for half an hour or so and get them going. It’s pretty fun!

  2. Heather B Says:

    I’m helping people out with Overdrive at least once every reference desk shift these days. Today there were 4 or 5 people. The demand is crazy; of our consortium’s Kindle-compatible eBooks, there were maybe 70 of 2200+ not checked out this afternoon.

    We also offered a class on downloadable books last Thursday. Lots of interest, and about 40 in the room, which is pretty reasonable for an afternoon program here. (We started at 4:30 in an attempt to get the older set.) We’re already planning to offer it again, with a few tweaks.

  3. Kathy Says:

    We’ve been doing a LOT of one-on-one training on the desk and through appointments, but I like the idea of the class. You get more people trained at once that way!

  4. Erin Says:

    Our library has also found our ELMO document camera (often used for projecting images of paper documents) to be a very successful tool for similar purposes: we used it last year in a workshop to project images of mobile database apps on an iPod Touch. Your webcam solution sounds great, too; I was just thinking that any libraries who already happen to own an ELMO might want to consider it for this purpose.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Erin: something like the ELMO is exactly what I was trying to recreate. Also, I just saw a Lifehacker post about mounting a webcam on a flexible-arm lamp, so maybe I’ll do that too. The next step would be to output the webcam right to a digital projector, bypassing the PC, but one thing at a time. But you’re right, a document camera is perfect for showing off small-screen devices for any reason.

  6. Swiss Army Librarian » Freading Ebook Library from Library Ideas, LLC :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] Ebooks are more popular than ever in my library, and our Overdrive ebook catalog (which we share with 36 other libraries in my consortium) just cannot keep up. Patrons are disappointed that everything they want to read isn't available for immediate download (either because the publishers won't deal with Overdrive or because other patrons already have that ebook checked out). […]