or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Reference Question of the Week – 2/22/09

   February 28th, 2009 Brian Herzog

zoomtext large print keyboardThis question actually took place months ago, but was only recently resolved.

An elderly patron came to the desk and asked about email. She said her grandchildren all wanted her to get an email address, but she didn't know anything about computers.

I took her over to a computer, intending to help her sign up for an email address. However, when the patron said her eyesight was too bad to read the computer screen, I decided to move to our large print workstation.

The "large print" workstation is more or less the same as our regular computers, except that it has a much larger monitor, and it has the Zoomtext software to make reading the screen more comfortable for people with low vision. The other difference is that it is located in our large print room, so the atmosphere is more quiet and calm than the computer area.

We sat down, and I fiddled with the mouse and keyboard to adjust the screen text so it was at a size she could read comfortably. At that point, I sat back and started saying things like "okay, now use the mouse to point the arrow there..." and "type mail.yahoo.com in the white bar..." I could tell the patron was understanding what I was saying, but was still having trouble.

I asked her if the screen was clear enough, and she said,

I can see the words on the screen just fine, but I can't make heads or tails of the keyboard.

It turned out, even though we tricked-out the software, we neglected to make one very important piece of hardware "large print." The keyboard was the same type we used on the regular computers, and the small white-on-black keys were just not something this patron could read.

I brought this up with the library's IT person, and she asked our Friends group to purchase a real low-vision keyboard. It took a few months, but they came through, and we have a new Zoomtext large print keyboard hooked to the large print computer.

It's kind of an embarrassing oversight - at least it was for me when I was trying to help this patron. I don't expect to be able to anticipate every need and requirement, no matter how hard we try - that's why it's important to get feedback from real patrons (and pay attention to it and act on it).

I've seen some patrons using the new keyboard, and the few I've talked to are extremely happy with it. They'd been making due with the old one, and it never occurred to them to ask for something else. I feel better knowing there is one less barrier for these patrons, but one older gentleman summed it up perfectly:

It used to be that typing was a struggle, but now email is actually fun. Or rather, it probably will be when I understand what I'm doing.



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Another Announcement from OverDrive

   April 1st, 2008 Brian Herzog

OverDrive logoHot on the heels of its announcement of mp3-based and iPod-compatible audiobooks, Overdrive is introducing a new product line: Large Print Audiobooks.

Designed to cater to the elderly and vision-impaired library patrons (just like our print large print collections), OverDrive has contracted with various large print book vendors to convert their catalogs into large print audio versions.

I think it is great that vendors aren't always trying to cast wide nets to scoop up as much profit as possible, but instead are providing products based on the needs of our smaller patron groups.

The only catch is that, like large print books, the audiobook files will be larger than their normal versions. Also, larger headphones are required, too, to accommodate the extra sound.

Still, it's great. You can keep up with more announcements on the OverDrive News page.



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