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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/8/12

   January 14th, 2012

Cell phone with headphones plugged inI found this question interesting, even though I couldn't help much. An older woman came up to the desk one afternoon and said:

I have message from my granddaughter on my cell phone that I would like to save. How can I record that to a CD so I can listen to it whenever I want?

As you might suspect, I'm decently competent when it comes to tech questions, but I know nothing about cell phones. However, I suspected there must be some web interface she could log into and see all of her account's voicemail as mp3 files or something - at least, I hoped there was. Short of that, there was always the low-tech method of simply holding her phone close to a tape recorder.

Her carrier was AT&T, so I called the local AT&T store and asked them about downloading voicemail files - this is the guy's response:

No, we don't have anything like that - just tell her to hold her phone up to a tape recorder*.

Man. Yeah, I'm sure it'll work, but the quality would probably be pretty bad. So, I tried searching online for recording voicemail from cell phone and after reading a few posts, I found the obvious answer of using the phone's headphone jack to plug into a computer and use that to record.

The Ask MetaFiler post was particularly informative, as it provided multiple options including a list of the different hardware and software options available. Of course, we didn't have any of this in the library, so I couldn't help the woman directly. But it did provide me with enough information to call around to a few local computer repair shops, and ask them if they had the equipment and ability to record her message for her.

Of the shops I called, one said they'd do it for $10 and one said they'd do it for free, and the woman was very happy. She said she's try the free one first, and if it didn't sound good enough, she'd try the other.

It's kind of too bad we didn't have the right cable to do this - now I'm really curious to see if it works (but not enough to actually get my own cell phone).


*The guy at the AT&T store also did say that if the woman was being threatened she should take it to the Police, but that wasn't the case.

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2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/8/12”

  1. Chris Says:

    Too late in this particular case, but YouMail.com (free) replaces the default voicemail provider, and allows for you to retrieve voicemails from a web interface, allows them to be sent as attachments to emails, and had apps for Android phones. Quite handy. But her best best with the default AT&T voicemail is the headphone jack to PC/tape deck line in.

  2. Brandy Stillman Says:

    Also too late in the particular case, but you can download Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) for free to do the recording and output to MP3 or WAV. And, depending upon her phone (most have a standard stereo jack — think headphone/earbuds) a $7 stereo audio cable (like people use to connect their iPods to their car stereos) from RadioShack to connect from her headphone to a computers mic input will do the trick. She would then just play the voicemail from the phone like she were listening to it and click record in Audacity to capture it while it is playing. If for some reason her phone did not have the right jack, most carriers let you forward the message to someone on your network; if she knew someone that had a standard stereo jack on their phone. Glad though you were able to find her a computer shop that would do it.