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

Libraries Circulating Wi-Fi Hotspots: Now That’s Cool

   May 28th, 2015 Brian Herzog

internet access here signI've been quiet lately because I've been just flat-out busy at both work and home, but here's something that has me excited: patrons checking out wi-fi hotspots from their public library.

Last month's article about the NYPL's circulating wi-fi got me interested. I brought it up at a recent meeting, and a colleague (thanks Anna!) sent me some more background info:

The idea is simple enough: have a mobile hotspot for patrons to check out, that can create a local wi-fi signal using a 4G data plan. And surprisingly, not very expensive for non-profits: $15 per hotspot device, and then $10 per month for the 4G service. Cheap!

I'm going to be exploring this for my library over the coming year. This community is pretty good about mostly being able to afford their own internet access, but there are still plenty of patrons in the library every day to use our computers and wi-fi. A service like this would be critical in rural or poorly-covered areas, but will still be a benefit here.

Not to mention, staff could take it with them to the farmer's market to provide wi-fi on the common, and also so we can have a live ILS connection and check out cookbooks and gardening books on the spot.

If you have any experience with these, please leave a comment. And I'll post again once we make some progress.

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Print From Anywhere to the Library

   March 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog

PrinterOn: mobile printing solutionLast week's reference question reminded me to post about a new service we've just started offering in my library - wireless "print from anywhere" for patrons.

We use Envisionware's LPT:One for our pay-for-print station in the library, which does have wireless capability. But patrons need to install a driver on their laptop, and only really works within the library - which is great for people printing from their own laptops, but we were hoping for more.

A couple nearby libraries were using PrinterOn, and that's what we decided to go with. It is web-based printing, which lets people really print from anywhere - the library, home, the coffee shop in the Town center, their smartphone while standing on the sidewalk, Canada - anything that can get to the internet can now send print jobs to be picked up at my library. Pretty neat.

Getting it Set Up
Of course we kept LPT:One for printing from our public workstations, because it works really well. Our initial intent was to integrate the wireless printing with our existing pay-for-print station, so it would be totally self-serve for patrons. However, when we spoke with our printer/copier management company, the cost of integration was prohibitive (about $4,000, mainly to update the hardware already in place) - especially for a service that we had no idea how much use it would get.

So we decided to do it the cheap way and run everything out of the Reference Desk. We lose the self-service aspect, and staff have to release each print job and manually handle patron payments, but it was worth it for a trial (and, if use justifies the $4,000, I'm sure we can negotiate with the print management company later on).

The PrinterOn software works well and was easy to install. There was a $200 setup fee and about a $500 annual subscription (roughly - and our Friends group provided the funding), and PrinterOn tech support installed everything we needed on our existing network server. The only other cost was that we bought a new printer, because we wanted to offer B&W and color, single- and double-sided printing, all from one printer. The printer we chose was the Xerox Phaser 6500, which, so far, has been just fine.

How It Works
To use it, patrons start at http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/webprint, and it's pretty straight-forward. You can upload a file from your computer or print a website, choose between B&W/color, single- or double-sided, and page orientation. Patrons both name their print job and get a job number, so we know which is theirs when they pick it up. There's also an option to print from email - you just email an attachment to our "print" email address (provided by PrinterOn), and the software knows to add the attachment to the print queue.

When patrons come to the Reference Desk, we log into the print queue and locate their job, hit print, and then calculate cost X number of pages after the job prints. We charge $0.15 for B&W and $0.25 for color, and charge based on pages - so, printing double-sided still only counts as one page. We also set it so jobs stay in the queue for 72 hours - after that, they automatically disappear.

Promotion and Results
We've got handouts for in-library promotion, and we're going to try to leave them at other likely spots around town - coffee shops, hotels, etc. It's fairly simple, but anyone is free to use and adapt it for your library if you like:

We launched this service about two weeks ago, and I have been shocked at how much it's been used so far - about once a day, at least. When it was ready, I added a link to our homepage (and mobile and Library Anytime sites too), and we put it on Facebook and in our weekly email newsletter. The next day three different patrons casually picked up print jobs, as if we'd been offering it for years.

But best of all, all patrons have figured out the interface, and no one has had any trouble sending print jobs.* The whole thing couldn't have gone more smoothly, and I love offering library services people can use from home.


*We did encounter one Acrobat PDF that the system couldn't handle - a complex text form that had a special print button built in, but we sometimes have trouble with PDFs on our public workstations, so I can't fault PrinterOn for that.

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Wireless Network Handout

   May 26th, 2009 Brian Herzog

wi-fiHere's a new little handout to show patrons (and staff) the basics on how to connect to the library's wireless network. Feel free to modify* and use it if you like.

The handouts are designed to be a third of a page, with Windows instructions on one side and Mac instructions on the other:

Since the beginning of the year, I've been noticing more and more people asking for help connecting to the network. It wasn't that our network was problematic - the patrons just seemed like first-time laptop owners, and had no idea how to connect.

We have a more hardcore troubleshooting handout, instructing people to use ip config to release and renew their ip numbers, but that was definitely overkill for these patrons. They needed something plain and simple, that showed the basic steps to search for and connect to networks.

But of course, plain and simple is tricky, since there are so many brands and operating systems out there. Please let me know if you have any suggestions on making this better, or post a link to your own handout in the comments section.

And thank you to Jessamyn for writing the Mac portion - it would have only been half as useful without your help.

*I usually do little handouts like this in PowerPoint, because I already have templates setup - sorry for the amateur desktop publishing

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/8/08

   June 14th, 2008 Brian Herzog

The phone rings, and a male patron asks:

Patron: Hello, do you, I, have you got, um, wifey, at the library?
Me: Ah, I'm sorry, could you repeat that please?
Patron: Is wifey, at the library?
Me: Well, I don't know, but if you describe her, I can walk around and look for her.
Patron: What?
Me: We don't have a paging system, so I'll have to walk around to check and see if she's here.
Patron: She? No, I mean wifey. For my computer. Can I use wifey access at the library?
Me: [pause] Oh, yes, we do have wi-fi access here...

...and I went on to describe what we offer. The patron wasn't nearly as entertained by this misunderstanding as I was - in fact, I think he thought I was an idiot. Oh well; at least we eventually straightened it out.

When he came in later that day, I was able to help him connect his laptop to the library's wireless network, so that may have restored his faith in librarian competency.

Regardless, I'm going to take advantage of Jessamyn's incredibly timely post about better publicizing library services (not to mention linking to them so patrons can find local wireless access when the library is closed).

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Plugged-In Study Tables

   February 28th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Study Carrel AfterOver the two years I've worked at my library, I've seen an increasing number of patrons bringing in their own laptops. We've offered wireless access and many years, but now we're offering just a little bit more.

In addition to work tables in the library, we also have a number of study carrels for people to use. The tables we purchased were designed with both power plugs and ethernet jacks built into them, but the study carrels were not. Since the study carrels were near walls that had jacks, we thought that was good enough.

However, the arrangement of the carrels (which are two little cubicles arranged back to back) meant that one patron had easy access to the plug, while the other had to interrupt the first patron and loop wires over the walls to get access.

We thought we could do better than this, and set about checking our vendors and the internet for purpose-built after-market power boxes, that had both AC power and an ethernet jack - and that were low-profile enough to not encroach on the desk space. We found some, but most were $200+, which was too much. So instead, we built our own.

Using pieces and parts from the hardware store and Radio Shack, we made four boxes, one for each carrel, and each box had two power plugs and one internet jack. The pieces are all common and low-tech, so assembling them was no problem. And, not including ethernet cables (which we already had), they cost about $25 each.

So now, for a very low price, patrons can use their laptops with or without a wireless card, and with or without their battery power (as well as charge their cell phone or power some other device) and not have to drape cords over another patron.

See photos: before, after, and a close up of a box.

That's one small step for the library, one giant leap for the patron who kept asking us why we didn't have outlets in the carrels.

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