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

Reference Question of the Week – 10/17/10

   October 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Volunteer facts bookmarkThis week's question is actually one I needed to answer myself - it's a little bit random, so bear with me.

My library just held our annual thank-you dinner for all of our adult volunteers. To illustrate "the value of volunteers" (in other words, how much money volunteers save us) my director and I came up with a "volunteer stats" bookmark* [ppt, 1.2MB] to hand out.

We had 241 volunteers last year, with a total of 5804 volunteer hours. We figured if we paid them each $15/hour, their labor would have cost the library $87,060. Just to add another little fact to the bookmark, I wanted to figure out just how tall $87,060 was in $100 bills.

So of course, I turned to the internet. I did a search for something like how tall is a stack of money, and after clicking on a few results, I found a forum posting that provided the Excel formulas needed to calculate not just the height of a stack of bills, but also the cubic volume and value of different denominations. Neat.

I copy/pasted the formulas into an Excel spreadsheet* [xls], and after a little tweaking, had my answer. And just to double-check it, I went back to the internet to find a "known value" (in this case, the height of $1 million in $100's). It checked out, so I had my fact for the bookmark, and a job well done, right?

Well, not so fast: being me, I thought, "hey, wouldn't it be awesome to turn this Excel spreadsheet into a web form that other people could play with? After all, that was so popular the last time."

Volunteer bookmark front

But this was all happening late in the day on Thursday, and I didn't have time to figure out how to convert the Excel formulas into javascript. So once again, I turn to the internet, thinking, "I just bet there's some easy spreadsheet-to-javascript converter out there."

And it turns out, there is: I found SpreadsheetConverter.com, which does exactly that. After you download the software, it converts spreadsheets to a web-ready format with just a click of a button - pretty neat.

But even better was their free demo offer, where you email them your spreadsheet and they convert it for you. Within 24 hours they sent back the converted webpage, and it works great - just enter the height** of your money stack below, and the spreadsheet tells you the value of various denominations, for both a single stack and a cubic block of bills.

One condition of the free demo is that it is for evaluation purposes only, so evaluate away and keep this tool in mind if you ever need to throw a spreadsheet up on your website - it can save you a lot of time. Too bad I didn't know about it when I was coding the Library Use Value Calculator.

The thank-you dinner went well, and the bookmarks were a big hit. Yay for volunteers.


*Feel free to download, edit and reuse our volunteer bookmark* [ppt, 1.2MB] or the Excel spreadsheet* [xls] if you like.

**This was designed to figure out height in inches - to use different measurements, the form below will convert those values into inches:

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Greasemonkeying Around

   March 8th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Greasemonkey logo from WhirlycottLate to the party as usual, I'm just now finding out how much fun coding with greasemonkey can be.

As I understand it, greasemonkey is a Firefox extension that lets you write code to modify how your Firefox browser displays other peoples' web pages. So, if you would like a link from Google's homepage to your own, you can write a greasemonkey script to do that. You're not changing the Google homepage itself - only those Firefox browsers with your greasemonkey script installed will display the link.

But even that is great. There are a lot of scripts out there to play with, so I picked one and tried to modify it for my library's use. It puts a button on Amazon book detail pages, so I can link right into my library's catalog to see if we have the book (similar to our bookmarklet).

To use the script, you just click and install the file (after installing greasemonkey, of course). Then, view a book page on Amazon, and look for the Chelmsford/MVLC logo and link on the right (under the Ordering button).

Editing them is basically coding in javascript, with some differences. It's fun, though, and powerful. The barrier will be creating something useful, and then getting patrons to install it on their own computers. I'm working on a few others, and will be adding them to the library's Tech Tools page.

browsers, coding, firefox, firefox extension, firefox extensions, greasemonkey, javascript, libraries, library, public libraries, public library

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