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

Reference Question of the Week – 8/9/09

   August 15th, 2009 Brian Herzog

screentoaster.com demoThis isn't exactly a reference question - well, Part 1 is, but Part 2 is the real reason for the post.

Part 1
A patron called in asking for help using ReferenceUSA. I was talking her through how to create a custom search, and everything was going fine. But when I told her to click the "View Results" button to run the search, she said she couldn't find it.

"It's the big green button on the right," I said, while actually thinking, "are you kidding me? How can you miss it?" But no matter what I said, she couldn't find it. So now I'm thinking it's a coding bug on the ReferenceUSA website, so I run through all the "which browser are you using?" questions to narrow things down.

It turns out, we were both using Firefox 3 on Windows XP, so we more or less should have been seeing exactly the same thing. But just to be on the safe side, I opened IE to see what was happening there. I resized both browser windows so I could see them side-by-side, which required horizontal scrolling to see the entire screen. When I switched back to Firefox and scrolled to the right, my "View Results" button was gone!

I maximized the Firefox widow, and it appeared again. So I asked the patron if she had her Firefox maximized, and she said no. She maximized it and let out a little shriek when the button appeared. We both marveled at this for a minute, then I helped her through the rest of what she was doing with the database before we hung up.

Part 2
Later, I was trying to figure out how to report this occurrence to ReferenceUSA tech support. To type it all out in email would be long and perhaps not completely clear (as I sure you just witnessed). Then I got the idea to create a screencast - I had just read about Screenjelly on TameTheWeb, and Mick made it sound so easy. So I tried it, and it didn't work. The Screenjelly website didn't work, I mean, and I have no idea why.

But further in the post Mick also mentioned ScreenToaster as another one-click screencasting tool. So I tried that, and I made a little video in one take (no audio, but it wasn't necessary in this case).

So instead of a long-winded and convoluted email to ReferenceUSA, I basically sent them this:

Hey guys-

I noticed a weird thing happening in ReferenceUSA that I think might be a CSS coding bug. Please take a look at the video below to see what happened - I hope you can fix it:

A few days later, a RefUSA tech support person called to thank me for sending the video. She said others had reported the same thing, but she was having trouble replicating the error. But now that she saw it, they were going to get to work fixing it.

So, yay for a screencast being worth a thousand words. And now that I've done one, I'm going to keep playing and try to make some instructional demos for our website, databases and catalog. I'll even try to find a microphone, so I can add some audio instructions.

Oh, and a bit about ScreenToaster: you record your screen with one click, and then the video is either stored on their website or uploaded to YouTube. They can also be embedded into your website - here's the one I made (it's clearer at full size):

And thanks to Mick and Michael for the TameTheWeb post that explained things so well - check it out for more on screencasting.

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