Educational Role of Libraries
In a comment regarding PeterB’s post on library CE, JanieH said:
“I hope there is someone out there that can answer your not-so-rhetorical of ‘what’s next’ for both our sakes. . .For what it’s worth, I do see the same trend happening in training for the public at our library — what they want and what they need is becoming an issue when planning classes.”
I’ve been thinking about this and I’m starting to conclude that the educational role of libraries might be the ‘next big thing.’ Where else can you go to ask a question of a real person on almost any topic? I know some of you are thinking of the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, but technically is that free? And of course you could call an 800-number and talk to a rep over the phone for problems or tutorials for your software, hardware, or communications technology, but we all know how ineffective that procedure can be in fulfilling our needs. Other than taking a course or a workshop (which often cost lots of $), there are relatively few other opportunities for patrons to receive just-in-time, real-person help for computer issues.
At libraries of every kind, anyone can walk up to the reference desk and ask a computer question, get help on using an application or receive assistance in finding information on how to solve a technological problem. If libraries capitalize on this aspect of service, for which a gaping hole exists in our society, we could rule the world! Most computer problems that I encounter at my high school library or at the university reference desk are easily solved and within my ability range. Students ask for help in converting files between applications, using some of the easier features of common software, troubleshooting connectivity issues, or searching effectively for something online. By providing patrons with both Q-and-A services, and short (5 minute) tutorials helping them to solve the computer problem they have just encountered, our value and worth in patrons’ eyes would expand exponentially. If we could market the library’s natural in-person and online “computer troubleshooting and tutoring services,” we would both fill a niche and meet our patrons’ needs, thereby encouraging them to come to us for any kind of
Additionally, these types of computer questions — which are increasingly common areas of patron concern — are well within most librarians’ expertise. If they are not, they provide an opportunity for librarians to learn new skills and information that is immediately applicable on the job. If a technical problem cannot be solved in-house, it could encourage networking and mutual reliance on other organizations and resources, something we all agree is important.