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

Reference Question of the Week – 2/1/15

   February 7th, 2015 Brian Herzog

3.5 inch driveA patron came up to the desk this week with a 3-1/2" disk, asking for a computer that can read it.

I had to stop and think - I was pretty sure we had a computer somewhere in the building that still had an a: drive, but wasn't positive. I told him I would walk around and check, but then we got into about a ten minute discussion about different storage options - USB flash drives, CD, DVD, SD cards, etc. He seemed really interested in the pros and cons of each, so I told him as much as I knew. He just wanted to store and carry regular files, as far as I could tell, so I was surprised when he decided by the end of the conversation that a micro SD card was his best option. I mean, I'm sure it would work, but I don't associate those and all with handy access to your resume and stuff. Huh.

Anyway, eventually I went on my quest for a computer with a 3-1/2" drive. I looked everywhere, checking every PC in the building - even digging through old donated laptops - but I couldn't find an a: drive anywhere. Nor could I find an external drive that I thought we purchased just for this situation (although I did find some external CD drives).

I felt bad that I let the patron down, but even worse that it was at that moment that I realized that this format really is dead - at least, it's dead to my library.

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Selling Flash Drives at the Reference Desk

   May 1st, 2007 Brian Herzog

Flash Drive photoWe've just taken a long-awaited step at my library - we're selling flash drives at the Reference desk.

When I say "long-awaited," I'm probably just referring to myself. We've sold 3.5" floppies and CDs at the desk for a few years, but they each have their problems. 3.5" disks seem to be unstable (easily damaged by temperature, abuse, or ejecting before the light turns off) - to the point where I had to develop a handout for recovering lost data. And CDs have the problem of read/write access, being difficult to use (another handout), and having different save formats not being readable by all computers.

Flash drives don't suffer from any of those problems. The only thing that had been keeping us from offering them at the reference desk was price. Spending $1 on a disk is one thing, but I couldn't see a patron being willing to spend $50 on an impulse buy at the library. I had been looking for cheaper flash drives on various websites, but even with rebates, the cheapest I could find was about $10 - still too expensive.

So I was happy when I finally found some for under $5. I don't really like the big box stores, as I feel their business practices are inherently flawed, but I caved in this case. A nearby Target store has for sale Memorex 32MB flash drives for $4.99 (and this is even in tax-free New Hampshire).

I bought 15 of them, as that seemed like a good number - not a huge investment, but enough to keep us going for awhile. I am hoping to wean patrons from the 3.5" disks and get them using flash drives as soon as possible. It'll mean more secure data storage for them, and less headaches for the desk staff in terms of us not having to tell people "sorry, but the file you've been working on for two weeks is completely gone."

So far, though, there's been no takers. People still want to spend just $1 and take their chances, rather than spending the $5 for 28 times more storage space. But I've decided to not replenish our 3.5" supply when they're gone - we'll only sell flash drives. I wonder how that'll go over.

disk, disks, flash drive, flash drives, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, selling disks

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