Ask A Librarian: setting up a WP site accessibly?

image which is itself showing a stock image with the HTML code for alt text and then arrows from it point to three different "use cases" underneath: screen readers, search engines and broken images.
Image by: Seobility – License: CC BY-SA 4.0

I was talking to a woman on Twitter about this but it was worth re-stating st length. Building in website accessibility from the get-go is much better–both in terms of hassle factor and in terms of outcomes–than bolting it on after the fact. If you’re building a small library website using WordPress, here are some resources for you. Here’s a nice starter page that talks about some considerations. Continue reading “Ask A Librarian: setting up a WP site accessibly?”

Ask A Librarian: What is the deal with “free” ebook sites?

screenshot of a page from the bookshowing two girls looking at a computer screen which says WIN PRIZES

It’s been an odd set of months. I got busy with Drop-In Time and then very un-busy. I’ve been keeping up with my newsletter a little, and doing email Drop-in Time, public awareness stuff on various mailing lists, keeping my ear to the ground. Still acting as a Qualifying Authority for the Internet Archive’s print-disabled program which got a LOT more visible thanks to the National Emergency Library. And so it was natural that someone would ask me about this. Got any questions, feel free to drop me a note. This question was a little longer, but a brief summary is a librarian question: “patrons who were asking about “free” ebook sites, ranging from OpenLibrary to ZLibrary. Are they safe? Legal? Should we even mention them to our patrons?” My response, which comes from my very particular place…

Hey there — thanks for asking. I do know a lot of these sites and I used to work for Open Library. My feelings on this topic are kind of complex, so I’ll just outline what I know. Sorry this is long!

So there are outright “We pirate stuff’ sites like Mobilism and ZLibrary. These are places that are basically set up to pirate things and have no veneer of legality to them. I have personally used them on rare occasions but I don’t think I’d point a patron to them. They often point people to sketchy download sites where it it incredibly easy to pick up viruses and etc. Though I must note the sites themselves do not have viruses or malware to the best of my knowledge. Continue reading “Ask A Librarian: What is the deal with “free” ebook sites?”

Every state library association website

We’re working on some stuff at VLA that has necessitated looking at other state library association websites. I have found them maddening to track down. Here is a list I have created from this Wikipedia list and this ALA list (which has additional information). Something incorrect? Let me know! Continue reading “Every state library association website”

Ask a Librarian: When do you touch a patron’s computer?

Conversation with my friend Peter (in italics) about teaching technology and when it’s okay or even helpful to touch a patron’s device. Slightly edited. I run a drop-in time weekly during the school year where people can come and ask questions about technology. First come first served.

I will also link to How to help someone use a computer by Phil Agre because I think it’s the single most helpful thing I’ve read on this topic, ever.

Peter: I am a fellow technology-explainer librarian. What is your policy about touching the devices of those you are helping? Do you make them do everything themselves, or do you take and manipulate things on your own? I find I’ve been doing the latter more and more. Thanks!

Me: Hey there. My general feeling is if it’s a thing they will need to do again I always make them do it. If it’s a one time configuration thing that, for example, should have been done by a tech at their workplace or something, I will sometimes do it and narrate what I am doing. Its hard right because people type slowly and there are only so many hours in the day, but I feel that for anything where they need to actually repeat the process, making sure they can do it for themselves (and what the pain points are like “Oh this has a drop-down menu and they don’t know what to do with that”) is important.

Sometimes I will “tee up” a site or something for them. If the class or example is “How to type a letter” and we’re learning cut and paste, I may step through getting Word up and running for example. One of the things I like about drop-in time the way we do it is that there are multiple people you are helping at once, so someone can be fussing with getting their password right on their own and I can be helping someone else at the same time. It’s a downside to short one on one sessions.

Peter: Thanks. We have drop-in time, too–in fact almost all of our tech help is now drop in since attendance at our classes was very low and unreliable. I’d much rather address their questions individually and directly. Seems so much more productive and they go away happier (I think). I tend to handle the devices of people who seem in a hurry or “just want you to” show them something or change something about their device/computer. I will take your approach to heart, though. I really do want them to learn how, so I will try to stick to encouraging them to do it themselves with my guidance unless, like you said, it’s a one-time configuration deal (Overdrive accounts, oy!).

Me: Well and it’s challenging I agree. Some people maybe don’t want to learn the ins and outs which is their right but I often (politely) make the point that if they just want me to do a thing for them, there are people you can pay to do those jobs and they are not me 🙂 And yeah for longtime users who I KNOW actually understand how to do the thing but are in a hurry, I will totally do a thing for them but I’m pretty fussy about making sure they know I’m doing that more as a friend to them than as an employee. I just don’t want to set up expectations where they assume they can, as an amusing example, get their watch battery changed at the library when it’s not technically a service we offer.

Peter: I agree with your concern that people will start to think there are things you can/will do that go beyond digital literacy instruction/learning. I do try to focus on learning by doing for those who come. I worry about becoming too successful, so to speak–of reaching a level of drop-in attendance that will overwhelm the helper (i.e., me), but I have only had that challenge a handful of times in the past couple of years. Most of the time I can juggle helping multiple people, as you described. I have some regulars that come every week, but they are very good about sharing the time with newcomers. I think it may be time for a new round of publicity, though, to make more people in town aware that the library is a place where you can get this kind of help/knowledge. My fall back is to make appointments with people at a time when I can focus on their issue exclusively for a little while.

Me
: Yeah I do a certain amount of triage where I sometimes refer people elsewhere (“You need to pay someone for this, here are some suggestions”) and also I spend some time coaching people into how to have conversations with others when that is what needs to happen (“Ask your son who gave you the laptop if he knows the admin password”) specifically how to talk to tech support (“Tell them the wireless card isn’t working and ask if it’s under warranty still”). I find the attendance is self-regulating, if we have too many people one week we’ll have fewer the next week. This year, for the first time, I have an intern, a 13 year old friend of a friend who is very good at computers but could use some people skills. He’s got great energy and enthusiasm, and so for people who mostly just need someone to sit by them while they do things so they feel more confident that they are not making mistakes, it’s been helpful. And he gets community service credits for school and all the snacks we can bring in!

Peter: Snacks! We don’t have snacks. I too do a lot of work with people helping them to understand the language of tech. One of my guiding axioms is that people don’t begin to understand something until they start to get a handle on the terminology. I try to be careful to use terminology consistently, and to call things by their factory approved names–i.e., the names their makers give them. I think that will help them if they ever talk to an official tech support person–to anyone, really.

the problem with digitally divided government

 saying "democracy begins with you, get out there" in from of local high school

[another edited post from a mailing list discussing digitally divided citizens. Some people were reflecting that their elected officials don’t remember being offline. In Vermont we have a different issue]

In Vermont where, at least where I live, ​our elected officials are themselves digitally divided and so can’t always make good choices for the populations they serve. So issues like:

  • What does a good website look like?
  • What is a “normal” way to use email?
  • What is reasonable to expect people to do technologically in 2016?

Are all determined by people who do not have much of an idea of the normative expectations in the space and who have to make decisions about those things. So to these three points…

  1. We have Vermont Health Connect debacle, very expensive and costing the state a hundred million dollars. People managing the program didn’t recognize that a website without a LOGIN button was actually not a good website (among other things). I’ve written up my feelings at length here.
  2. My state representative shares an email address with her husband, that is her only point of electronic contact. They’re both lovely people, but they’re not just citizens, they are sort of like role models and this is not a good tech lifestyle to model. Our local local library has a privacy policy to account for couples or even families with shared email addresses. Which is sort of good, people deserve privacy, but also bending over backwards so people don’t have to get themselves an email address which is normative in 2016.
  3. I serve on a town board. We get notifications for dates and times of our meetings in postal mail.​ We receive all of our documents in postal mail. This is inconvenient and wasteful (in both time and resources) but our town clerk is not that tech savvy and this works for her and the majority of the board. It won’t change until she retires.

Vermont recently changed their Open Meeting laws to tell towns with websites they needed to put notes from government meetings online within a few days of the meeting happening. Some towns opted to take down their website because they felt compliance would be too onerous. And all of these decisions happen at a town by town level.

People without a good understanding of the tech ecosystem are vulnerable to people who want to sell them things and can’t properly evaluate what they are being sold. I spend a lot of time just outlining what “normal” is to people and then getting a lot of aggravated “Well this way has always worked for us, kids today and all their electronic gadgets…!” pushback. So we do need to attack the problem of the digital divide from both (all) sides.