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

Reference Question of the Week – 8/16/15

   August 22nd, 2015

oxps iconA patron came up to the desk with a flash drive and said she needed to print a file, but was told she needed a Windows 8 computer to print it.

I thought that was odd - I've heard of files requiring certain versions of Microsoft Office to print, yes, but never a certain version of the operating system.

So I plugged it into our desk computer, which is Windows 7 and Office 2010, and sure enough, it didn't work. While I was doing that, the patron explained,

I live in [town nearby] and tried this in the library there, but couldn't open the file on their computers either. It didn't occur to her to ask the staff for help. Then a friend then told me that the Chelmsford Library was good with computers, so I thought it was worth another shot. I tried it on my own here first, but my friend told me to make sure I asked someone for help.

Well now I really can't let her down.

The file was an .oxps file, which she had generated while on the Fidelity website when she wanted to print some account information. I tried forcing Word 2007 to open it, but no luck. The computer just didn't recognize the file extension.

So, I grabbed my laptop from my office (which is the only computer in the building with Windows 8, as I am the Library guinea pig) and plugged in the flash drive. Sure enough, the file this time had a real icon, and when I double-clicked it, it launched "successfully" in one of the Windows 8 apps. I say "successfully" because even though it opened, we were still only in a Windows 8 app, but at least it was progress.

After some left-clicking, right-clicking, and general blind bumbling (I hate those apps), I managed to find the print function, which let me print to a pdf file. Now we're talking.

I saved that to patron's flash drive, and moved back to the desk computer (which would be quicker to print from), and was able to print it no problem. The patron was happy, and even said that librarians are her favorite people in the world. I hope she remembers that the next time she's in a library and unfortunately can't get what she wants.

By the way, if this hadn't worked, or if I hadn't had a Windows 8 laptop handy, my fallback would have been to try Zamzar.com or some other online converter - usually those work surprisingly well.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 8/16/15”

  1. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    I’ve always thought that it would be a good idea for a large, central library to keep one working specimen of as many outdated storage formats and operating systems as they can. Just slap ’em on old tech carts and keep them in the stacks until a patron needs them to read an old file.

    Sure, you wouldn’t use an Apple II every day. But if someone is going through the trouble of getting the data off a giant floppy disk, they might have something important or interesting on their hands.

    Plus, it would be a link to a massive pool of information that is currently in danger of vanishing forever. There are decades of digital ephemera that are too old to be interesting from a practical viewpoint, and not old enough to be interesting from a historical viewpoint. Weird times for archivists.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @The Librarian: to some extent, I think libraries do that by default. Since we’re generally under-funded, we tend to keep technology for as long as we possibly can – which means we’ve got out-dated stuff just because we can’t by new things. Deliberately keeping resources to provide backward compatibility should definitely be a part of our mission though, I agree. We have a USB A: drive for the patrons who need to pull data off old floppy disks. We don’t have one for 5-1/4″ disks though, but we do have a VCR for VHS tapes (not to mention typewriter, fax, microfilm, slide projector, and other old tech we offer).

    However, we end up referring patrons to our local cable station for some tech support like this – we may just be lucky, but they are generally history-minded over there, and willing to teach people how to digitize old media and convert to modern formats (audio/visual and data). Of course, the benefit for them is that the people they train to do this go into their volunteer pool, and will hopefully stay involved with the station.