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

Digital Picture Frames as Informational Signs

   July 21st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Digital picture frame at the Childrens DeskUsually I'm pretty good at math, but in this case it took me awhile to put two and two together.

Awhile ago, our Childrens Department put a digital picture frame on their desk, using it to display photos of their various programs*. I'd seen and heard of other libraries using digital picture frame like this, and for in-building informational signs (like upcoming events), but I never thought of an application for it at the Reference Desk.

Until a couple weeks ago, when I was in the Apple Store in Boston. I'm not at all an Apple fanboy, but I admit that once in awhile, they come up with a good idea.

A friend of mine was having trouble with her Mac laptop, so we took it to the genius bar to having someone help us with it. I still really like the idea of the genius bar in and of itself, but what got my attention was that, behind the genius bar were great big screens scrolling through tips and information. The messages were all about using or fixing Apple products, which were perfectly targeted at the captive audience of people waiting for the genius bar.

I didn't get any photos myself (Apple is funny about taking pictures in their store), but here are some from the interweb:

Apple Store Genius Bar
Apple Store Genius Bar
Apple Store Genius Bar

You get the idea.

When I saw that, it finally dawned on me - this would be an easy thing for libraries to do at service desks, using a simple digital picture frame. As soon as I can get approval (and funding) to purchase one, I'd like to try one with rotating tips on topics like:

  • how to renew books
  • how to book museum passes
  • using online resources and databases
  • where the bathrooms are
  • online events calendar
  • how to find summer reading books

Really, good topics are anything that might be interesting to someone waiting in line at the Reference Desk.

The "photos" will just be slides created in PowerPoint, and hopefully, having something interesting to look will give patrons waiting in line something to do (in addition to teaching them something they may not have known).

I bet other libraries have already thought of this, so if you're doing it, please comment with how it's working. When I get ours up and running, I'll post an update with how it went.


*They decided to use a digital picture frame rather than flickr or other online service, because they were reluctant to post photos of kids on the internet. Keeping the photos offline and in the Childrens Room was a good compromise (between online or not at all), and it might be more likely for the kids to see themselves, too.

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Reference Question of the Week – 3/28/10

   April 3rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

1040 starsThis isn't really a reference question, but it is a question from a patron. It's, well, you decide:

Patron: Have you see the monk hidden on the cover of the tax forms?

As Liz Lemon would say, "what the what?" The patron explained, somewhat cryptically, that the negative space between the stars on this year's 1040 instruction booklet cover design seemed to form a monk.

Can you see it? Hover your mouse over the image to see what he was talking about. It's slightly easier to see on a larger animated version on flickr.

I saw it after he pointed it out, but personally, I think it looks more like Darth Vader. The conspiracist in me knows it's not unusual that secret symbols appear in government printing, but they're usually more Masonic than Imperial (but maybe the stars were just to much to resist).

There must be a word for this - hidden pictures formed by positive space shapes. This is sort of like the distorted tessellations in MC Escher's art, but not quite. I looked around but couldn't find a name or description, so I'll keep looking.

In the meantime, if you're interested, here are a few examples of logos employing negative space.

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Reference Question of the Week – 12/9/07

   December 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Pixenate logoA high school student walks up to the desk and asks if there are any "picture programs" on the computers.

After a bit more questioning, I realize he's looking for a photo editor, like Photoshop. It turns out he was joining some online group, and needed an image for his avatar. He wanted to crop a picture of himself from his friend's myspace account, and use just the t-shirt he was wearing in that picture to be his avatar.

(Quite the far cry from helping a student find information on European explorers for a homework project, but you answer the question you're asked.)

Unfortunately, my library doesn't have any kind of photo editing software on the public computers (not even MS Paint). Perhaps because of this, I've been paying attention to mentions of online photo editors, so I had something to offer this kid.

I personally have used Pixenate (or, PXN8) a couple times. It allows most of the basic photo editing functions, and doesn't require you to create an account to use it. This is what I showed the student, and we were able to save the photo from myspace to the harddrive, crop it accordingly, resize it, and upload the result as his avatar.

I like to think that this high school kid has new respect for the library as a high tech mecca, but since I need to tell this particular kid regularly not to swear in the library, "respect" might not be the right word.

Anyway, here's a roundup of online photo editor posts I've seen recently (along with a few other image-related posts, for good measure):

I'm sure there are more out there, and that everyone has their favorite. I'm going to keep my eye on Splashup, and in the meantime stick with Pixenate for the simple stuff.

image, libraries, library, online photo editors, picture, public libraries, public library, reference question, tools, web-based

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