Educational Role of Libraries

April 28, 2006 at 8:33 am 8 comments

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
question!

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.

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8 Comments

  • 1. Alane, OCLC  |  April 28, 2006 at 8:58 am

    In the survey that forms the basis of our recent report, Perceptions of Libraries and Information resources, 85% of respondents agreed that the library is a place to learn. Highest agreement from a list of 14 items, well above “supports literacy” for example. So, there’s data to support your feeling!
    The full report is available at our website.

  • 2. Alane, OCLC  |  April 28, 2006 at 8:58 am

    In the survey that forms the basis of our recent report, Perceptions of Libraries and Information resources, 85% of respondents agreed that the library is a place to learn. Highest agreement from a list of 14 items, well above “supports literacy” for example. So, there’s data to support your feeling!
    The full report is available at our website.

  • 3. Alane, OCLC  |  April 28, 2006 at 8:58 am

    In the survey that forms the basis of our recent report, Perceptions of Libraries and Information resources, 85% of respondents agreed that the library is a place to learn. Highest agreement from a list of 14 items, well above “supports literacy” for example. So, there’s data to support your feeling!
    The full report is available at our website.

  • 4. Janie L. Hermann  |  April 28, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Great post Michelle, especially this suggestion:

    By providing patrons with both Q-and-A services, and short (5 miute) tutorials helping them to solve the computer problem they have just encountered, our value and worth in patrons’ eyes would expand exponentially.

    We have been formally doing this at PPL since we moved in to our new library 2 years ago. We hired three “Tech Aides” to be members of our Reference Dept. and their primary job function is to help patrons troubleshoot computer problems of all sorts. In addition to them giving help on the floor of the library when we are open, we have at least 2 formal “Open Tech Times in the Lab” every week where people can drop in for in-depth help on software, hardware, etc. Our Tech Aides are so popular that we have customers requesting them by name and they all have what we dub their “groupies”.

    Our librarians also supervise a program called Internet Drop-In where customers can drop in and ask questions about using the Internet. We also have several techie librarians on staff who will help troubleshoot.

    Yes, it is a gaping hole and (with a little creativity) it can be filled.

  • 5. Janie L. Hermann  |  April 28, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Great post Michelle, especially this suggestion:

    By providing patrons with both Q-and-A services, and short (5 miute) tutorials helping them to solve the computer problem they have just encountered, our value and worth in patrons’ eyes would expand exponentially.

    We have been formally doing this at PPL since we moved in to our new library 2 years ago. We hired three “Tech Aides” to be members of our Reference Dept. and their primary job function is to help patrons troubleshoot computer problems of all sorts. In addition to them giving help on the floor of the library when we are open, we have at least 2 formal “Open Tech Times in the Lab” every week where people can drop in for in-depth help on software, hardware, etc. Our Tech Aides are so popular that we have customers requesting them by name and they all have what we dub their “groupies”.

    Our librarians also supervise a program called Internet Drop-In where customers can drop in and ask questions about using the Internet. We also have several techie librarians on staff who will help troubleshoot.

    Yes, it is a gaping hole and (with a little creativity) it can be filled.

  • 6. Janie L. Hermann  |  April 28, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Great post Michelle, especially this suggestion:

    By providing patrons with both Q-and-A services, and short (5 miute) tutorials helping them to solve the computer problem they have just encountered, our value and worth in patrons’ eyes would expand exponentially.

    We have been formally doing this at PPL since we moved in to our new library 2 years ago. We hired three “Tech Aides” to be members of our Reference Dept. and their primary job function is to help patrons troubleshoot computer problems of all sorts. In addition to them giving help on the floor of the library when we are open, we have at least 2 formal “Open Tech Times in the Lab” every week where people can drop in for in-depth help on software, hardware, etc. Our Tech Aides are so popular that we have customers requesting them by name and they all have what we dub their “groupies”.

    Our librarians also supervise a program called Internet Drop-In where customers can drop in and ask questions about using the Internet. We also have several techie librarians on staff who will help troubleshoot.

    Yes, it is a gaping hole and (with a little creativity) it can be filled.

  • 7. Sophie Brookover  |  April 28, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.

    I wrote about this last year, and time has only confirmed my theory.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

    libraries and librarians are going to have to be at the forefront of not just adopting new technologies and making them available to our user. We have to go several steps better. We need to adopt and develop expertise in those technologies so we can help our users become expert in using them, themselves.

    I think we can (and should!) even go beyond Internet help and extend these drop-in sessions & more formal “Geek Out, Don’t Freak Out” (TM Andrea Mercado) sessions to the gadgetry of our patrons’ lives, too.

  • 8. terry  |  April 28, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    I’m new to this blog, but have been reading it for a while. I love the idea of libraries being the place to go for tech help. How’s this for an idea, librarians are great at networking, how about keeping an IM window open to all of the libraries with tech assistants and tech savy librarians for when patrons come up with questions that you need help with (or to help cover the times when your library doesn’t have a tech person around). It could grow across time zones and be a cool librarian “back channel”.


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