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Freeware for Alarming Librarians
December 12, 2007 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Help my librarians remember to rove! I need a specific sort of break timer and I can't seem to find one anywhere.

We are trying to implement the practice of "roving" at my library; that is, when it isn't busy at the reference desk the librarians should go walk around and be available if people have questions out in the stacks.
The problem is that it's hard to get in the habit of doing this, so I thought a little reminder message would help. I want it to just give you a little nudge when things aren't busy, but not to be annoying when you're trying to help someone.

What I want it to do:
--Pop up a message of my choosing at intervals of my choosing. (e.g. "Rove?" every 10 minutes regardless of what else is going on on the computer)
--It should require the person to click the window to close it, but should close without any further waiting.

It must:
--be free
--be web-based (Firefox or IE) or able to be installed on Windows without the intervention of the IT people. (Similar to Firefox).
--be unobtrusive when it isn't alerting you
--not be linked with Outlook since it doesn't work with the profile we use at the desk

I tried Workrave, but I couldn't get it to work like I wanted--it seems like it doesn't pop up consistently--maybe it doesn't count the time when you're not actually typing? Plus, you can't edit the text.

Other previously recommended options mostly seemed to cost money or not do what I wanted--a lot of them seem to want you to take a break for a certain amount of time, but I just want the message and that's it.
posted by exceptinsects to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Might look for a Firefox extension. I don't know of one, but it might be worth it.

BTW- if Firefox is installed correctly and your IT team is setting up everything correctly, you should need their help to install Firefox.
posted by slavlin at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2007


Myrrh might be able to help you out.
posted by cashman at 11:26 AM on December 12, 2007


Speaking as someone who would be on the other end of the pop-up. It would be damn annoying to be in the middle of a long reference interview, several tabs open and multiple searches in progress and then to discover that a pop-up is in the middle of the screen and messed up what you are typing. Believe me it won't take very long before one or all of your librarians figure out how to disable this.

I have worked in many different libraries where roving was implemented and have seen very few processes that work well beyond repeatedly asking.

Sorry that this does not answer the technical aspect of your question.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 11:39 AM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I tried Workrave, but I couldn't get it to work like I wanted--it seems like it doesn't pop up consistently--maybe it doesn't count the time when you're not actually typing? Plus, you can't edit the text.

Right, Workrave only measures the time when you are typing or mousing.
posted by grouse at 11:54 AM on December 12, 2007


Rove? I hate that sonofabitch! Ha ha, zing!

Anyways, I've seen a few Firefox extensions that allow reminders, some may allow message customization, and some might not. Start looking here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/browse/type:1

You may want to consider not implementing a pop-up reminder on the computers though - people tend to take that sort of thing the wrong way.

Perhaps just leaving a post-it note on the bezel of the monitor would provide the needed reminder without feeling like quite as much of a robotic order. Change the color of the post-it not every few days though, otherwise it's easy to ignore (accidentally or on purpose).

Alternatively, as the saw implies, you may indeed catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Perhaps you leave out a sheet with everyone's names and allow them to make a hash mark every time they rove that day. Provide a light incentive for reaching an easy goal/quota. Perhaps an extra break the next day? Off the hook for changing the photocopier toner next time? (You'll have to pick up any slack with regards to tasks avoided, don't push it onto the other workers).
posted by terpia at 11:54 AM on December 12, 2007


Yeah, if it steals focus people are rapidly going to come to loathe the timers and by association the roving system itself.

My first thought was Growl/Snarl but I don't have a clue if they'd be workable in your IT environment. It looks like there's some firefox support for Snarl, but I'd have to dig into the grits of it a little more deeply than I'm able to at the moment to see if the current state is usable enough.
posted by Skorgu at 12:28 PM on December 12, 2007


--be web-based (Firefox or IE) or able to be installed on Windows without the intervention of the IT people. (Similar to Firefox).

BTW- if Firefox is installed correctly and your IT team is setting up everything correctly, you should need their help to install Firefox.


Wait, why should you need the help of IT to install Firefox?
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:29 PM on December 12, 2007


I hope my question shows that I am trying to make it as non-annoying as possible, just a little message then gone. I will test it out first and see if it is unobtrusive enough--many of the ones I've tried so far were in fact too bothersome.

Any other suggestions would be helpful. The post-it might work.

Maybe whoever wrote that article that said how great roving is should write another article on how to get people to actually do it.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:31 PM on December 12, 2007


Might I suggest you start with a simple, actual, physical timer? Perhaps one with a gentle ding?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2007


exceptinsects: Is it a multi person desk or single person desk? A public library where I worked that had a multi person desk had one person designated as 'rover' on the schedule for an hour. The idea was if they were not busy they would rove around for 10 minutes or so (though it quickly become dubbed 'pornpatrol'). But it was still hard for people to remember to go do it.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 1:35 PM on December 12, 2007


"Might I suggest you start with a simple, actual, physical timer? Perhaps one with a gentle ding?"

I was thinking the same thing, but with an hourglass. It doesn't have to be the ornate (and expensive) glass-and-sand type, there are cheap ones that use a dripping oil-and-water mix contained in plastic. When the timer runs out, rove.

It's not obnoxious if nobody can attend to it, and it presents a constant visual reminder (since it's always on the desk even when it isn't time to rove).
posted by CrayDrygu at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2007


RB: exactly. We have a 2-person desk, and we've tried designating someone as the rover, but as you say, no one remembers to do it.

The problem with the timer (also noisy) or hourglass is that you have to remember to set it, and if you remembered that, you could probably remember to rove as well!

It doesn't really matter how often it is, just something that would
a) be automatic,
b) get your attention every so often throughout the hour,
c) not be annoying to either librarians or patrons, and
d) not be something that you would eventually stop seeing (e.g. post-it).

DOES NOT EXIST??
posted by exceptinsects at 3:00 PM on December 12, 2007


exceptinsects, it might exist, that doesn't mean that anyone here would have heard of it. There's an unbelievable amount of crappy freeware for Windows to accomplish obscure tasks.

What I would do if I needed this would be to use Windows Task Scheduler to have a task started every 10 minutes that opens a new tab in Firefox for a "time to rove!" web page. Way easy.

Of course this might violate your criterion (e) in that your IT people may not allow you to use Task Scheduler.
posted by grouse at 3:23 PM on December 12, 2007


Sorry, I meant that in a humorous, rather than exasperated, way. :)
posted by exceptinsects at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2007


Sure. I think my solution is pretty good though, you might look into whether you can use Task Scheduler without IT help. Or even with it.
posted by grouse at 3:45 PM on December 12, 2007


"The problem with the timer (also noisy) or hourglass is that you have to remember to set it, and if you remembered that, you could probably remember to rove as well!"

Not necessarily. My thinking is that the hourglass serves as a reminder to roam simply by virtue of being there, and having a solitary well-known purpose. If it's on the desk, it will cross into the librarian's line of sight often as they work. When they see it, it will serve as a reminder to roam. I do things like this to myself all the time. This morning, I put a stuffed animal on my chair before I left for work. When I got home, it reminded me to pay the cable bill.

As for your "d) not be something that you would eventually stop seeing," I'd like to share an anecdote with you. When Windows has installed updates and wants you to reboot, it pops up a window to remind you every 10 minutes. My boss once managed to ignore it for 8 weeks straight. He works long days a lot, so I'd say he ignored the pop-up about 2,520 times.
posted by CrayDrygu at 3:52 PM on December 12, 2007


I really do suggest you mefimail myrrh (say that 3 times fast). That application does everything you want, except recur. All that needs to be done is to have a checkbox that says "recur", and when you click the button, it starts back over.

All that has to be done is change the alertstring from 'minutes are up' to 'Rove?', and have it recur. Which Myrrh, or some programmer could probably do in about 5 minutes.

And the best part about it is that you don't have to install a thing.
posted by cashman at 7:20 AM on December 13, 2007


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