Friday, May 31, 2013

Need to know what you should read first in a new subject?

In the course of putting together a 'readable history' display I came across this forum thread today. It seems like a great reading resource. It's interesting to browse through but you could also look for suggestions for a particular discipline by using Ctrl+f/Apple f. Not every respondent stuck to the "for laypeople" stipulation, but an impressive fraction of them did. The question that prompted the thread is: What single book is the best introduction to your field for laypeople? what a patron typed today while trying to enter his email address into the Yahoo! log in page.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Flash drives for all?

Yesterday one of our most unpleasant patrons came in and spent a couple of hours typing furiously without saving any of her work. Her system is to come to the library, work for a long time, and then have a staff person help her email the document to herself. Yesterday evening she flipped out because she was confused about what time the computers shut down and as a result they shut down before she had a chance to email her document and she lost all her work. This is despite the fact that both I and my colleague told her very clearly when her computer session would expire and reminded her repeatedly that you never know for sure what will happen so you should save your work frequently.

My colleague (before she lost her work) talked to her about the advantages of having a flash drive, but she wasn't interested. This happens surprisingly often at my library. Even though data storage is incredibly cheap now and you can buy flash drives almost everywhere, most of our patrons don't have them and aren't interested in getting them. Those patrons frequently lose work, sometimes hours of work, on the public computers. It's hard to push people to strongly to get a flash drive because, firstly, the cost is still non-zero, and secondly, to act on the suggestion immediately, the patron would either have to leave the library or buy one of the massively overpriced drives that our Friends of the Library group sells as a fundraiser. At the same time, lost data causes a huge amount of heartache both to patrons and to staff (because patrons take their frustration out on us), and would be easily avoided if every patron in the library had his or her own flash drive.

What if we actually gave every patron a flash drive? Cursory Google searching suggests that you can buy 128 mb flash drives in bulk for about $2.75/unit (128 mb probably doesn't sound like a lot to readers of this blog, but I'm confident it would be enough for 99.9% of all library users). We issue about 200 new library cards a month at my library branch. If we gave out a drive with each one it would cost us about $550 per month, equivalent to the cost of about 28 hardcover books. Ordering the drives and handing them out would cost barely any staff time, and it would be easy to know who had already been issued a drive and who hadn't. The question is, is this the kind of service that we want the library to provide?

Some pros:
-It makes things easier for library staff
-It allows users to use another library resource (public computers) more efficiently
-People like getting free things

Some cons:
-It costs money that would otherwise go toward expanding the collection or improving other library services
-It is a wealth-transfer program in that it takes tax money from people who buy their own flash drives and gives it (in the form of flash drives) to library users, who tend to be poorer than the average population
-It might not be in line with the library mission of lending rather than giving (arguable)

Anyway, thoughts? Do you think this is something libraries should consider?

(Follow-up post to, um, follow.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Advanced Card Magic

If this were 30 years ago I could make a terrilbe pun about card catalogs. Aren't you glad that library technology has evolved!? Anyway, this is a refgrunt from an evening at the Children's Desk.

Do you have “Super Why: Attack of the Eraser”?

Do you have the movie “28 Days Later”? Two kids ask for this together and then have a conflict over who gets to be higher on the waiting list.

Phone: Do you have the book My Dyslexia in stock?
Me: Not here, but we have it at another branch and we could have them send it over to us for you.
Phone: I’ll call back and let you know.

Indiana Jones movies. He thought there was only one and when I tell him there are eight or so he is SO excited.

Clifford books.

National Geographic’s “Weird but True” books. All checked out : (

Books on “advanced card magic.”

We have too many fines to check out! Can we leave these with you while we get one of our parents to pay for us?

I can’t find the movie “Cars” on the shelf.

The card trick books in the kids’ section were no good so we try the adult section. He says “while we’re at the computer, I should probably tell you what else I’m looking for: optical illusions. Lastly, Greek myths.”

Crystals. Cats. Power Rangers.

Find a DVD that has a wrong spine label. If I ever make it all the way to the back offices I will send it to technical services, but for the next hour I’ll be accosted by patrons every time I try.

The Dingo.

Where is the book Holes?

Help printing coupons—not a success.

39 Clues series: Which is the first book and where is it?

My Weird School.

Have you seen Freddy?

I downloaded a program onto this computer and now I don’t know how to make it go away. Can you help me?

Is this a bookmark?

Girl who I helped remove Google Chrome from her computer comes back to say thanks, it worked. I don’t want people to see my stuff.
You are so information-aware, you are awesome! Favorite patron of the day so far.

Same girl: A dictionary that shows the origins of words. I introduce her to the coworker who knows these things off the top of her head. Success.

“Adventure books with pictures.” After some discussion he seems happy with the fairy tale section. Good luck I guess.

Coworker: Do you know what happened to the cart that is normally here?
No, sorry.

Freddy comes by. Where is Chris?

Do you have “the panda movie” i.e. Kung Fu Panda 2?

¡Mira! ¡Angry Birds!

Bonus from today: I went to this Wikipedia page as part of my job. Note the disambiguation notice at the top.