Now that I’ve gotten back from ALA and gotten some sleep, I’ve been ruminating over privacy topics some more. The panel went well. I also read Cory Doctorow’s book Little Brother on the way home — they were giving away copies at the panel — and enjoyed it quite a lot. It’s a YA just-barely-dystopian book about a terrorist-seeming event and the Bay Area lockdown that follows and how a group of tech savvy teens respond, and how others respond. It’s a good book.
During the panel, we were talking about things you’d want to keep private that you don’t necessarily need to keep secret. Sex and bathroom activities were two obvious examples. This then led to a discussion, more like hitting on a few points, about library records and how there is a difference between trashing them — so you can legitimately say “we don’t have any records to show you” — and obscuring them, say through encryption, so that the records are available to, say, patrons and yet not to librarians or, it follows, to law enforcement. I found this idea intriguing. Now that we’ve done a decent job making the point that patron library data is data that we protect, maybe we can make that protection more sophisticated so we don’t have to protect it by completely eradicating it. Maybe.
Anyhow, I got grabbed outside of the panel by Library Journal and I talked a little bit about this.
Also can I just say that Library Journal’s coverage of ALA was really engaging and worth reading this year? I haven’t been following ALA conferences in a while but I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading about this one in addition to attending it.
Michael blogged about this last week I figured I’d add some more information. These are two students of mine that I visit irregularly at the Tunbridge Public Library. They’ve got pretty good computers and sharp minds but don’t know the first thing about how to navigate a file system or compose a message to save for later. We sit down and talk about how to do the things they want to do. The last time I was there, I made a little video and you can see it on YouTube.
I feel like I can just say “blah blah insert digital divide lecture here” but really, the library is doing an invaluable service here, and the job I have isn’t even paid for by the library. I’m an employee of a local technical high school that happens to take its outreach mandate very seriously and sends me to these places that happen to be libraries. If I had any tips for people wanting to do this same sort of thing, here they are.
Encourage people to get laptops. I’m not a real Dell fanatic, personally, but because of them laptops aren’t as fiendishly expensive as they used to be. I really liked that my students were both using Macs because a) it’s the same kind of computer that I have and b) I find them much easier to use for someone who has never used a computer before. No need to start a flame war, but I’ve been doing this for several years and I’ve observed that my Mac students are happier with their computers. You can save people serious money if they have a laptop and they can use the library’s internet service occasionally and not have to pay to get broadband at home.
Invest in wifi. If students have their own computers then you can teach them about the internet using their own computers. No matter how awesome our public access computers are, they’re not identical to the computers our patrons have at home, they’re just not. Students can learn things on the computers and then take them home and practice the exact same things.
Solve problems. I used to teach a basic email class at the public library I worked at. It went great. However I would find that time and time again people would come to the class and sit through it because they had one loosely email-related question to ask. They didn’t even need an email class but there was no other way to get five minutes of dedicated staff time to ask a computer question. Consider being available in a way so that people who want a class get a class and people who just have questions can ask them. Also stress that they should come in with a problem to be solved, not just “I want to learn about computers” People who just want to learn about computers should probably go to a class.
Larger groups help everyone learn. My two students got along great and it was excellent to have them learn from and teach each other as well as learn from me. Having multiple students (not a ton, maybe just two or three) encourages people to see tech support time as a limited resource, lets people see other people’s computers and their problems in a larger context, and makes computer time more sociable and less like school. Also I think people are less likely to let their technostress get the best of them if they are not in a private session with you.
Keep it regular and keep it brief. Have set times when you offer tech support help. This keeps people queueing their questions to bring to you, can free up other less-savvy staff to refer people to you appropriately and the time limit means people will ask pressing questions first and prioritize their own concerns.
Share with staff, create a FAQ. If I solve a problem that I see frequently (for example: how do I print just part of a web page) I’ll often share the solution with the staff so that they can know how to help people who come in with the same problem.
Know when to say when. Unfortunately, the biggest problem in my area is that people need help at home, figuring out their printer, or their network or their desktop machine. I decided early on that going to people’s houses would not be part of my job. There has been a rare case where a patron got DSL and wasn’t sure how to do the self-install and I’ve traded help for a free dinner or something. Usually I’ll refer people to the professionals when they need help either buying equipment, installing something at home, or fixing a complicated problem with some legacy frankenstein PC. It’s too easy to own all of people’s future problems if you get too involved with some of these situations and I’ve sometimes had to tell people that I won’t be able to keep working with them unless they get a more stable computer or start practicing better computer hygeine.
Those are just some top-of-the-head ideas. My library background doesn’t make me special in this regard. Anyone who is okay dealing with people and knows technical stuff well could be part of an informal tech support program at your library.
I didn’t notice this site until they linked to one of my little videos but the Library Videos site by Nancy Dowd the Marketing Director of the New Jersey State Library looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Nancy looks like she likes her job. One of her other blogs is called The M Word and is about marketing libraries.
So five days after getting back to the US, I am caught up on my RSS feeds. This is mostly because I prioritized things like getting pictures on Flickr, going food shopping, getting to the pool, arguing about Twitter, and making this little YouTube movie. Here are some things I read that I think you might like to read.
Chris over at Libraryola does some actual investigating into the hubub surrounding the WaPo article about the library’s weeding policy. He gets a much more well-rounded answer from Sam Clay, the system director, than what the newspaper published.
Walt asks if SecondLife and social software networks are where our patrons really are. I love the idea of SL, and the immediate potential as a place for geographically spread out people to come together is great (free teleconferencing!) but not a single person I’ve talked to out here uses it… yet. So, for me there’s a difference between going where my users are and trying to make them go someplace I like. I’ll evangelize about the usefulness of the Internet generally, especially for poor rural populations who can use it to save money and save gas, but I’ll wait a little before diving whole hog into SL. The comments seemed to have turned into a Walt vs. Jenny debate, we’ll see if they stay that way.