Jessamyn West -- librarian.net
17mar08, Lansing MI
[note: Slides with no image credit are my own photos]
image credit: http://www.wired.com/wired/issue/16-02
So, I just got back from SXSW. It was mostly techies with some techie librarians. This photo is actually from last year.
image credit: http://flickr.com/photos/brian-fitzgerald/418686911/
These were the people who are building the web, 2.0 and otherwise. They have their own in jokes and culture. It became a joke, finding your friends... "have you seen my friend, he's about six feet tall, square glasses, black hoodie, laptop bag... no?"
image credit: http://flickr.com/photos/adactio/111845209/
We all talked to each other so much we lost our voices. But the one voice I never heard was the one that deals with libraries, and the digital divide, and all the people who are still learning to use computers as the advanced tools get sexier and more complicated. The opening remarks just presumed a level of savviness that we know everyone doesn't have, much less connectedness to even get that savvy. Developers admitted to not caring about accessibility, or people who were still on dial-up connections.
image credit: http://flickr.com/photos/adactio/2328398499/
I got home on Wednesday.
Thursday I went to my regular drop-in time where the 70+ year old moderator of my town meeting needed help opening attachments on his email and finding a way to backup his memoirs (he had disks, he had never heard of USB drives). He didn't know his own email address. Then I taught a "getting started with Excel" class in the evening for three people. They were all hoping to get better jobs with this new knowledge.
On a good day, I'm dealing with cheery interested people with well-functioning computers who are able to access the internet and mostly know what to do when they get there and just need me there to ask questions.
On a bad day I have to deal with software and hardware intalls on legacy systems without decent license codes. Computers that have not been maintained. Computers that have been treated badly. I agree to things I don't even tell the librarians about. I agree to things I don't even sometimes understand. I sign away rights and responsibilities. And I'm the expert!
If I don't know, who does know? And why is this so hard?
image credit: http://icanhascheezburger.com/2007/01/16/you-make-kitty-scared/
Part of the problem is all the people who have to work together on the technology on libraries problem. We call them stakeholders. This picture is supposed to be amusing.
And, all these people are part of the solution. Let's see how....
image credit: http://flickr.com/photos/wwworks/1384952210/
...read every word on a page and don't know which are important. They need terminology, need help navigating minefields, need to be kept safe while learning. [anecdote: ebay class]
image credit: http://flickr.com/photos/nycgal/4074328/
... want to be able to use library technology LIKE the computers they are used to. They have USB drives and iPods. They game. They were telling you about LOLbrarians before you knew about LOLcats. [anecdote: "who here knows what a rickroll is?"]
Hey, that's you! You want to help people, right? What gets in your way? There's this concept called FUD... started by IBM in (according to wikipedia) "This implicit coercion was traditionally accomplished by promising that Good Things would happen to people who stuck with IBM, but Dark Shadows loomed over the future of competitors' equipment or software." We get it from people, we try not to pass it on [anecdote: ASIST talk "firefox causes viruses..."]
image credit: http://flickr.com/photos/revjim5000/1492169438/
These people mean exceptionally well, but they're grant funded and follow the money not the communities. If you're lucky, their grants get renewed. [anecdote: MaintainIT cookbooks]
image credit: http://flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/166042354/
Everyone likes the cute OLPC but it has few library applications. The Gates Foundation basically technologized Vermont, but dramatically underestimated libraries' ability to "catch on" and start their own technology programs when the GF left. Most of the libraries I work with are still using their original Gates machines. Two libraries that I know of in Vermont use Macs. How much do these vendors affect HOW we deliver services?
So let's look at WHAT we're teaching people to use. In my neck of the woods it's all about EMAIL. I used to teach email classes at the public library using a laptop/overhead and a whiteboard because it was the best way to get people to focus on the concepts and not the immediate tasks. Webmail may be free, but it's hard for many novice users to navigate. Where's the information? What do you mostly see?
Just a quick note. The last page was what Yahoo Mail looks like to an average user when they log in. The above screenshot is what it looks like to ME. I have adblocker installed on my firefox browser and I use two Greasemonkey scripts called Yahoo Mail Cleaner and another called Yahoo Mail Welcome Skipper
When people in libraries ask me about social software, often they've heard of MySpace or or Facebook. We look at these sites. For people who don't spend a lot of time online, many of these sites are totally inscrutable to them. Michiganders may have heard me saying this part before, but I had one student log in to her email for the first time to see an ad like this one and ask me, sincerely, "why does Yahoo think I'm fat?"
Remember when Yahoo was just about the links. Few images, quick to download? [this is from 1996]
Now they've got a few irons in the fire, some dealing with cross-branding, some just flat out ads. You can still find the links at directory.yahoo.com. They changed. We have to change also.
So, the people building the web don't have ease of use as their first mission anymore. We are trying to teach people about pages that are no longer really designed for them.
Things like ebay are great, but require a LOT of steps for people to get started. Things like PayPal and email may be normal for some people and a lot of work for others. Once people know it's supposed to be a little complicated, or that you think it is too, they calm down some about not understanding it. A lot of technostress in my experience is thinking you SHOULD know something you don't, it's not about not knowing things.
I put a note up on Twitter asking for tech tips to get my brain going and I heard from seven librarians in about an hour. There's a big network of people working on the same problems and not that many websites people need to master. Just teaching people how to Google an error message [and google is one thing that IS user friendly] can be an awakening.
While there should be no shame in saying "I don't know" it's not half as good an answer as "let's figure it out..."
image credit: http://flickr.com/photos/23905174@N00/2061329074/
In order for me to give these talks, I work with tiny libraries and bring their stories to other people. In order for you to get the lay of the land, you must first explore it. Go new internet places and bring back what you find there. Then collect your patrons and take them with you.