ways to help new computer users

“Once upon a time, young people helped senior citizens across the street. While this is still a good idea, it’s just as important to help them setup their Facebook page.”

This short article makes a few points very well. Many novice tech users are experts in other things and get easily frustrated feeling like they’re back at square one. That sort of thing needs to be considered when you’re figuring out the best way to approach teaching topics. Additionally, find ways for people to succeed, whatever their level of skill is. This can be a challenge for people who are really brand new, but just having simple taks like mouse proficency and “send an email to me. Oh look there it is” can give peopel the confidence they need to explore on their own. [thanks barbara]

FBI takes library computers without a warrant

That’s what it looks like to me from reading this news article. Even though I’m not thrilled about that, I don’t see anything in the library’s policies that woud prevent this from happening. Does your library have a privacy policy? Some more discussion on Slashdot.

tech.

The How to Lose Your Techie Librarians memes have gotten a lot more traction than people talking about Library 2.0, mainly because we don’t have to discuss whether techie librarians exist or not. They do, we do, and we’re all over the place. There are also computers all over the place which in my neck of the woods has more to do with the Gates Foundation and less to do with technology advocacy. Is it a surprise that people who use technology enough to become bloggers are also technology advocates? I’ve been reading some thought provoking pieces over the past few days which I’ll list here

  • Rory has been keeping up with his blog and wrote a long piece about technology advocacy and his ideas about technophilia. While I think his tone verges on the negative, which often happens when people talk about things they don’t like about “bloggers” without addressing one person or idea directly, I think I can still extract what he’s getting at. I also question his listing of the presumptions of what he perceives to be the tech advocates. While he is comfortable calling people’s ideas and assumptions “irrational” because they aren’t supported by research, he is also dismissive of people’s conclusions on topics that are well-researched, such as the tech savviness of newer younger library users, making his assumptions seem equally irrational. I’m always sorry when people feel that any group of people to which I belong feels exclusionary to them because I aim towards openness generally and because I know it can feel bad to be left out. On the other hand, I don’t feel that tossing around words like “perverse” is a good way to get a dialogue started, it sounds too much like choosing sides. On the other other hand, I have known Rory for a while and know that he’s no luddite, he’s just more on the cautionary side of technology adoption and advocacy than, say, I am. I think we’re both pretty skeptical of gadgets, bad technology for sale by bad companies, and the hype and boosterism involved in the marketplace generally, we just express it differently. Read what he says and think about it. You don’t have to agree to get good ideas from it.
  • This prompted a response and a longer response with a lengthy follow-up comment over at …the thoughts are broken… with even more food for thought and rundown of the ideas involved from another biblioblogger and library student who doesn’t always feel quite in the loop.
  • Contrast this with super-techie Karen Coombs talking about new-fangled AJAX and how and why it does what it does. This is in response somewhat to Walt’s post making a flip reference to “all the cool people” being seemingly dismissive about usability at Computers in Libraries. Walt asks, Karen answers, people learn. Good.
  • Last in the list is an essay from Rick Anderson that is part of a chapter he wrote for Attracting, Educating and Serving Remote Users Through the Web: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians where he discusses some very real truths about the world we find outselves in, as information professionals. I specifically found this line interesting “[I]n fact, what we are seeing is the end of a world – a world in which information is mostly published and distributed in print formats. That world is gone. We are not talking about a change that is going to happen someday or that is just starting to happen – the revolution is over, and online has won.” Now if you read the rest of the essay, he’s not some zealot telling us to replace our OPAC with Google, he’s just talking about risk, and the way that electronic information is different from print, and the way mastery of both is important, but different. I like this essay.

Now from my perspective, as much as I love my technophile friends, it’s the people who are in the first stages of coming in to the profession (Rory and I are both at about the ten year mark I think) whose perspectives on technology I’m curious about. I’ve said before, I grew up with technology, my father had a job with the word “technologist” in the title and to me computers are like video games, big fun problems to solve. When I work with librarians in this region, a less wired area, I complement [and compliment] the library staff. I do not tell them that “I am the future” or that they should all get ipods, though when they tell me that they hear that MySpace is where all the sexual predators hang out, I try to tell them what I know. When they think about getting their catalog online, I try to help them choose a sensible way to do it. My feeling is that technology will continue to be a growing part of libraries now and in the future and we can either choose to learn the technology ourselves, or get it sold [or given] to us by people who may not have our best interests at heart. I think we ignore technology at our own peril.

I teach email to old people, I teach technology to librarians, and I co-manage an online community of 30,000 people. I think we need to use technology sensibly, purchase technology sensibly, and encourage people to talk about technology so that it doesn’t become some oogyboogy topic like sex or religion that people feel that everyone else has already made up their mind on.

…and about those techie librarians

As I was writing my post about losing your techie librarians last week, I did some thinking. My list was a little longer and I removed a few items that could have gone either way — that I saw as important as a techie librarian, but that I thought non-techies might say “See, that’s what’s wrong with those techie librarians….” Examples like “Make them submit all of their work to a non-techie committee that meets infrequently” can highlight this nuance. In my world, getting all of my techie decisions second guessed by non-techies can be frustrating and seemingly fruitless. To other staff, I’m sure that seeing me working away on a project that springs fully formed from my laptop is equally frustrating, possibly. I learned, at my last library job, how to ask for feedback on projects as I worked, to try to get people to feel like they were part of the process while at the same time not just saying “So, what do you guys think of the new website?” Getting responses on the new website design that indicated that I should change the colors, add more photographs or rework the layout when we were a few days away from launching it made me gnash my teeth thinking “But I’ve been working with you on this all along, for months…!” and yet their responses indicated that clearly I hadn’t been, not in a way that was genuine to them.

Or, maybe not. One of the hardest things about technology is trying to assess people’s relative skill levels when the information they give you about their own skill levels is all over the map. While we have long worked with best practices in many aspects of the library profession, many best practices in the technology realm either exist totally outside of most people’s consciousness, or the “tyranny of the expert” problem pops up where a library director assumes that because they are in charge, they can overrule best practices without a better follow-up option. The websites of our professional organizations and those sold to us by our ILS/OPAC vendors don’t help.

There is a blind spot in working with technology where people making the decisions have a tendency to assume that other technology users are like them. The ideas of usability, web standards, and accessibility as abstract concepts don’t matter as much as what’s for sale, what your tech team can build, and what your library director’s favorite color is. The patrons become a distant third consideration when techie and non-techie librarians battle for turf. Trying to bring up the patrons in a usability debate becomes a complicated mess because everyone knows one or two patrons that, as exceptions to the rules, complicate the approach and strategies employed by the bulk of the rest of the patrons. Especially in rural or poorer areas, users with very little access to technology understand it differently than people who have grown up with it, used it at work for decades, or who have a familiar working knowledge of it. Do you design a website for your digitally disadvantaged community (who pays your salary) or do you design the site that will help them understand it, and do you know the difference?

I’ve been enjoying teaching adult education tech classes more than I enjoyed being a techie in a non-techie library, but let’s be fair, the library probably runs more smoothly without me there also. No doubt, hiring and retention of skilled technology-savvy librarians is an important point and a good management concern. On the other hand, there is an oil and water aspect to the techie/librarian mix and the techie in a library can be seen as the new kid in a classroom where everyone else knows the rules and the local customs. The techie librarian often doesn’t look, work, or sometimes even talk like longer term tenured librarians. This we know. The same can be said for catalogers often, but since their jobs are understood and understood to be essential for the functioning of a library (and have been since day one) I find that their eccentricities and quirky non-patron-facing job function seem to be less problematic than some of the same oddballness of the techies.

Again, it’s just me saying blah blah blah about the work that I do and the things that I see but I know that as a techie, the longer I work outside of libraries but with librarians, the more I wonder how to fix this problem and the less I think I know how.

make sure you know the gazingus protocol!

Every now and then I’m asked if I know how to do something I don’t know how to do. Most recently this came about when the staff at the school I work at wanted to learn Macromedia Contribute, for messing with their web site. Did I know how to use Contribute? No I did not. Could I learn it before I had to do a training on it for novice computer users in a few weeks? Sure I could. And, unlike those questionairres you had to fill out when you signed up with a temp agency, I didn’t even have to fib, I just said “I’ll start learning it today.”

Everyone’s lists — like this recent one on LISNews — are great. However, the world changes and what is right for today’s librarian might not be right for tomorrow’s. So, I’d add to this list and to these lists generally, the ability to learn as you go and teach yourself new things. If someone tells me that the job I want requires intimate knowledge of the gazingus protocol, then I guess I’d better learn it, and fast. Since I have a good working knowledge of computers generally, learning something specific about them is usually not too difficult. This is helpful at my job and I bet it would be helpful at yours.

what do people do all day?

Most librarians I know can pinpoint a time where they learned that most librarians have much more to do than just sit behind a reference desk and/or buy books. This can be problematized by media renditions of librarians that highlight these parts of the job at the expense of others, or news reports that view every person working in a library as a librarian. These are hard issues to resolve, especially when you don’t want to widen the rift between professionals and paraprofessionals in the field, and espcially where in many libraries people wear many hats. In any case, since I’m now working with libraries, but not as a librarian, I thought I’d let people know what it is that I’m doing all day lately. My official title is Community Technology Mentor, but really I’m just the Computer Lady and one who works a lot with libraries and librarians.

advice on library school and learning technologies

Meredith and Jenny have both posted very astute summaries of technology competencies that either are or should be required for incoming professionals to the librarianship field. Meredith focuses on what you should think about learning while you’re at school and Jenny adapts a list of skills for educators into her 20 Technology Skills Every Librarian Should Have list. Not a surprise that there is more than a little overlap between these lists. If you’re already out of school and in the field, think of this as a laundry list of opportunities for professional development, or catalysts for librarian skillshares.

food for thinking about libraries

This weekend has seen lots of good thoughtful pieces on libraries, their purpose and their use. I’ve been reading them all [and making my edible book] so I haven’t been writing here. Here is a short list, in one post, of things I think you should go back and read:

  • read about ALA giving a citation to Laura Bush thanking her for being a “tireless supporter” of libraries, read some ALA Council emails [here's mine] on the subject, then finish up with Mike McGrorty’s piece.
  • Read Chuck’s post and follow-up about technophilia and the changing role of libraries. Pay attention to the comments, and also see how this is rippling through the blogosphere, in places like Meredith’s blog and Librarians Happen. There are a lot of good thoughtful statements and comments circling around this issue.
  • Read more Michael McGrorty as a bit of a palate cleanser to get back to books for a bit before you re-enter the rest of the busy world of blogs, computers and everything else.
    I must confess that the reason I went to library school was more in the way of understanding the system and its operators than anything else. I thought they must possess some secret, something essential that I might discover and come away with. In the end, I found that it was nothing more than a set of skills set atop the same understanding of the library that I kept; half of me was a librarian all along. Sometimes I have seen it as love, other times as an obsession, but whatever it may be, the devotion to books and reading has saved me from worse fates, and the library, that temple of the book, has been my church, my rock and comfort since I was old enough to walk the stacks.

It’s weekends like this, at the end of National Library Week, that make me happiest to be working in and among libraries.

Librarian Eye for the Tech Buy

I had a great time speaking at Marlboro College and meeting the librarians, students and other folks that came out for the evening. What a nice bunch of happy engaging people! The slides for my talk Librarian Eye for the Tech Buy: thinking about technology and libraries and Vermont all at once are online [HTML format, whee!]. They’re pretty similar to the slides for my UNC talk but, not suprisingly, the talk was a lot different. I’m heading down to New Jersey to give a Ten Tech Tips type talk.

hi – 01apr

I know that a lot of my postings have been about technology lately, even though I work in a library. I have two things to say about that.

One, I will not be working in a library after next week. My contract is up and I have tentatively been offered a community technology mentor job in the next town over. I’ll let you know more as I know more, but basically it invovles teaching email to older people, which is all I really wanted to do for a while anyhow. It’s an AmeriCorps position which means it barely pays. It’s temporary which means I can still go to Australia next year. And, it’s in the next town which means commuting drops from 180 miles a week to more like 50.

Two, we all know libraries are changing. The library workforce is changing and the nature of the job is changing. The more librarians know the lingo of the new tech world of fee-for-service models instead of you-bought-it-you-own-it models of yore, the better we will be able to advocate for our patrons to provide the best service for them and the best return for their investment in us. You don’t have to live on IM to understand why IM might be a good alternative to 24/7 ref. You don’t have to check your email 100 times a day to know why email is a good way to increase patron contact options. You don’t have to podcast to understand why podcasts are an interesting and homegrown alternative to increasingly centralized and depersonalized audio content.

In the same way we don’t all have to be graphic novel fans to select them and realize their value for our patrons, we don’t all have to become cyborgs to realize the value of technology to our patrons, and the way technology can change lives, whether people access it in libraries or not. I’ll be presenting a lot of ideas librarians should, in my opinion, be learning about not as a way to say “Hey dork, if you don’t know about this you’re falling behind!” or even “All libraries should have this!” but as a way to say “When the time comes for you to decide if your library needs this, and that time will come, here are the things you’ll need to help you make that decision.” Smart librarians make smart choices and I’d like to help all of you get smart, no foolin’.