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


Random Notes on a Tech Program for Seniors

   November 19th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Watch for Seniors signI don't often give presentation-based programs for patrons at my library, but last week I assisted one of my coworkers with a "Using Library Ebooks" program at our local Senior Center. A few things stood out to me during this program that I didn't anticipate, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share them here.

(But again, I don't do this very often, so it might be old news to people that do.)

First of all, we were invited to do this tech program at the Senior Center - they're always happy to have speakers visit them, and seniors seem to be the demographic that we help the most with ebooks and mobile devices. It seemed like a win-win.

The plan was to do a short presentation with slides, then live demonstrations downloading to devices, and finally hands-on helping the seniors with their devices they brought with them. Unfortunately, the Senior Center's wi-fi was down, which pretty much killed any live demo or helping we planned because no one could get online.

My coworker stretched out her slides as long as she could, and then we just talked with the seniors and answered the questions. Although things didn't go as planned, I felt it went really well. The thing about just sitting around talking is that the people felt comfortable enough to ask us just about anything.

So, based on this experience, here's what I learned for next time:

  • Don't count on wi-fi - this is true for any presentation really, and having backup slides is just good practice. But in our case, having slides that had screenshots of the different websites we were talking about was invaluable, because we could still show what the sites looked like, where important links were, etc.
  • Make a Large Print Presentation - many seniors read Large Print books for a reason, so it makes sense that they'd be more comfortable with Large Print slides too. Even though it's projected up on a wall, it's still easy to accidentally make the type small to cram a lot of information on a slide. In a few cases I noticed the seniors leaning in towards the screen to read the slides, so this is definitely something I'll keep in mind for future presentations to seniors.

    A little harder to manage are screenshots, because you can only get so big with those. But one option is to pull a zoomed shot of the part of the page you want to highlight, so people can read it - but to also show the full page and where that zoomed shot fits in. I could see just a series of enlarged fragments being confusing.

  • Do these talks before Christmas - conventional wisdom over the last few years has been to offer ebook workshops right after the holidays, in order to help all those people who just received devices as gifts. This program was in early November, and something interesting came up: it was perfect timing, because it caught all of these seniors before they went South to Florida for the winter.

    That hadn't really occurred to me before, and if we waited until January for this program we would have missed them. Obviously not everyone goes to Florida for the winter, but in our case it really is a strategy to accommodate.

    Another nice benefit of mobile seniors is that they aren't limited to just what this library offers. Chances are the library in where ever they're going also offers ebooks, and it's worth their time to stop in there to ask about it. Some of the seniors in our program own property in Florida and some only rented, so they may or may not be able to get library cards down there depending on library policy. But we can help them with the Collier County Public Library's Overdrive catalog as easily as we can our own, and they seemed to appreciate it.

  • Be ready to talk about anything - this isn't really something you can prepare for, but it's good to allow time for wide-ranging conversations. In our case, when my coworker mentioned using Adobe Digital Editions, one senior gentleman said he must not be able to use ebooks after all because his computer at home has been telling him to update is Adobe and he can't.

    That led to a bit of an explanation on the differences between Adobe the company, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Adobe Digital Editions. It took some time, but in the end the seniors seem to understand why all of those are different things and not really related, and a problem with Flash doesn't mean he can't read ebooks. Of course I'd talk about this with anyone who asked, but having the freedom to spend some time on this seemed to benefit everyone.

  • If at all possible, work on their devices - I think every one of our attendees brought their own device, and they also each had unique questions about their experience (and problems) so far. I felt bad that we couldn't get online and address each one of them, because people in general aren't usually interested in the overall Way Things Should Be, they're interested in the very specific Ways It Is For Them.
  • Bring handouts - my coworker brought copies of her slides as handouts, but what we forgot were the ebook step-by-step booklets we have at the library. I also forgot to bring business cards with my contact information so people could easily contact us for one-on-one tech help appointments. Everyone was very interested in those, and said they'd be stopping by the library for more personal assistance. Which is great, but I feel bad that we didn't think ahead to make it easier for them to do so.

Overall I think it was a very successful program. The six or so attendees really seemed to benefit, and my coworker and I enjoyed the casual instruction. If anyone else has helpful tips to make programs better, please let me know in the comments.



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Make Online Tutorials with Tildee

   October 20th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Tildee.com: You Explain. They Understand.I was flipping through the October issue of Computers in Libraries and found that Donna F. Ekart's Tech Tips for Every Librarian column certainly lived up to its name - not only was my library mentioned in the column, but she also profiled a tool I'd never heard of before (and can certainly use).

We were mentioned for the Library Use Value Calculator, and I was happy she included it as an easy-to-implement tool for libraries.

The tool that was new to me is Tildee.com, a very quick and easy way to make online step-by-step tutorials. Sure there are other ways to do the same thing, but this was really, really easy - type in your text for each step, upload an image/map/video if you want, and you're done. That's it.

In about two minutes I made one showing patrons how to log into their catalog account.

I think if I spent more than two minutes at it, it would look a little better, but still - two minutes. They also have a nice listing of other tutorials (how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, how to use Animoto) to give you some ideas. And it's got a bunch of social media tie-ins too, for easily promoting your tutorial.

I did have some trouble uploading images the first time, but it worked itself out. Something I'd love to see added is the ability to add circles and arrows or otherwise highlight portions of uploaded images - like being able to point to a "Login" link. You can always add that to the image before you upload it, but it'd still be a nice feature.

I think this tool is a great compliment to creating screencasts, because sometimes combining text and images (or videos, maps, whatever) is more suitable than just a video - and better than just emailing someone the steps.

See, even us techie people have a lot to learn (hence why I read Computers in Libraries).



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Knowing What We Should Know

   February 17th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Computer with Question MarkJessamyn's observation on this USB keylogger thing got me thinking - without the context of that article, if I saw one of those in my library, I wouldn't have known what it was.

I would have known it shouldn't have been there, and maybe being plugged into the keyboard would have given me a clue, but I don't know.

This reminded me of a Technology Skills Library Staff Should Have list Sarah posted at ALA Learning (via). I wouldn't expect any staff to recognize a keylogger, but staff do need to be familiar enough with library equipment to recognize when something gets out of whack - printer not working right, copier making funny noises, website down, a monitor cable unplugged, or a foreign device plugged into a computer.

I like her list a lot, and am going to spend some time merging it with the idea from the Wilmington (MA) Library to break tech knowledge up into different levels to form a tech skills matrix.

Tech competencies is a topic I keep revisiting, because it is something that continually evolves - identifying keyloggers are just the latest addition.



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/24/10

   October 30th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Instead of a reference question this week, I wanted to highlight something else from NELA2010.

In the Trends in Reference session, Pingsheng Chen from the Worcester (MA) Public Library discussed the overall trend of reference questions in general - that there are fewer of them, but the questions we do get asked are harder and less traditional.

This is due to people turning to the internet to answer the easy factual questions, but still coming to us with the tough ones that require assistance or instruction. Her slide below listed a few example questions she's gotten in Worcester:

Reference Questions from the Worcester Library

I'm sorry the photo is tough to read - the questions are:

  • How do I activate my iPhone on a library computer? Can I download this mp3 to my iPod from a library computer?
  • My laptop cannot connect to the library's wireless. Can you help?
  • Which e-reader should I buy to download the library's ebooks?
  • I bought Barnes & Noble Nook and would like to download the library's ebooks to it. Can you help?
  • Could you recommend and create a booklist on China, its history and culture to my group? I would like to know if the books on the booklist are available at the library.
  • I got this letter telling me to come to the library to obtain this document...(e-government info)
  • I am looking for work and would like to know how to set up a LinkedIn account.
  • Many more questions are asked my job seekers: people need help to find a job, fill out an online application, write a resume and cover letter... (Many of them have no computer skills, no email account, no English skills...)

Her question to us was, if you were asked these, how would you answer them?

Most of the libraries represented in the room had at least one person on staff who is the go-to person for "techie questions." But is that good enough anymore? Do you feel the questions above are beyond the scope of reference work, or are you of the opinion that modern reference staff should have the knowledge and training to answer modern reference questions?

So that's the challenge for this week - how would you handle these questions if you were asked them by a patron?



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Staff Technology Competencies

   May 27th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Thumbs UpIn addition to Email Scam Competency Testing, here's another tool for evaluating staff technology competencies.

Developed by Alicia Verno, Head of Technical Services at the Wilmington (MA) Memorial Library (who generously agreed to share with everyone), this is a nice staff technology competencies matrix [pdf], breaking down tech skills by subject/software and assigning different skill levels based on position.

The skill levels are:

  • Level 1: Basic (Circulation Staff, Tech Services Asst.)
  • Level 2: Intermediate (Department Heads, Information Desk staff, Administration)
  • Level 3: Advanced (Technology Committee members)

and the required skills are broken out into these categories:

  • Workstation Basics
  • Operating System
  • System Security
  • Printing
  • Internet
  • Email
  • CASSIE [time management software]
  • Horizon [ILS]
  • Horizon (Tech Services staff only)
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft Word

I really like this fine-tuned approach. Assigning library positions to different skill levels is an easy way of being able to find help if a question is over someone's head.

I also like breaking out each skill area. It plainly lays out which skills are important for staff to know, but also shows them skills above their level, perhaps enticing them to be curious and figure things out.

We're going to modify Alicia's matrix [pdf] for use at my library, and I'd like to add:

  • Printers/Copiers: changing toner, adding paper, cleaning jams, checking print queues, deleting print jobs, overriding payment system, shutting down/starting up print server
  • Museum Passes: booking a pass, deleting a reservation, checking out a pass
  • ILL Requests: requesting through local catalog/state-wide catalog/OCLC requests, checking on a request

I'm sure it could be an endless list, and I know the point isn't to be exhaustive - nor is it to point out peoples' shortcomings or reasons why someone shouldn't be in the position they're in. Really, competencies lists should identify the areas in which staff feel uncomfortable, so supervisors can make sure they get the training they need.

Thanks again Alicia!



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Tech Trends from MLA2010

   April 29th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Locked BikeI was at MLA2010 yesterday and participated in a panel discussion of Top Tech Trends (it was good, and if I find the other talks online I'll link to them). The two trends I chose aren't exactly new, but are two things I think will have an impact at the reference desk. They deal with ownership of the resources we offer to the public.

[note: this post might not be news to anyone, but the links from which I drew my information are worth reading]

Trend One: Subscription Databases
This has been a pretty happy segment of the library world for a long time, and libraries probably are familiar and comfortable with subscribing to and offering this kind of content. But in the last couple years, new exclusive deals signed between publishers and database vendors has limited access to many popular periodicals (this also happened last year with Consumer Reports).

EBSCO was the focus of much criticism, but Library Journal reports that the publishers are also interested in exclusive contracts. I don't mean to vilify them, because businesses will always act in their own self-interest. But I couldn't tell what bothered me more: loss of access to these periodicals, or corporate press releases [pdf] saying these contracts were in libraries' best interest - there is a difference between "all libraries" and "libraries that are our customers," which is a distinction database vendors don't seem to make.

We non-customers can't afford to keep buying more and more subscriptions because these exclusive deals demand it, so our patrons lose out. The bottom line is that it took resources away from many libraries, and I'm sure this isn't the end of it.

Trend Two: Ebooks
People might be sick of hearing about ebooks* already. However, since it contains the word "books," there is a natural expectation for libraries to offer them, so you can either jump or be dragged into this discussion.

The problematic trend is that the "e" part of ebooks makes them an entirely different animal from print books. Lots of people are trying to figure out how libraries can offer them to patrons, but ebooks have the potential to drastically change the publishing industry (including a power struggle within the distribution chain), and there's no nice model right now that seems to include libraries.

Another problem (for libraries) is that the two most talk-about ebooks readers (the Kindle and the iPad) are also the most restrictive. Like publishers and database vendors, Amazon and Apple are companies acting in their own self-interest, and what they're interested in is sales. Their tactic to maximize their sales is to control where the customers can get ebooks - which excludes libraries.

At least right now: the same thing was true with the iPod and Overdrive audiobooks - when we initially signed up with Overdrive, they did not work on the iPod (which is what all of our patrons had). Eventually Apple relented, so I'm hopeful they'll also eventually open up the iPad to outside ebook sources.

However, there is a case to be made that the iPad is not designed for reading anyway.

Statistics for the Future
Ebooks are popular, but right now they only account for 2-5% of overall book sales. That seems small, but library sales are about 4%. Ebook sales will definitely grow, whereas library sales probably will not. Since the future of ebooks will hinge on decisions made by businesses, libraries will need to speak up to make sure we have a role in this market.

Bonus Trend: HTML5
Something I forgot to mention in my talk also related to the iPad: watching videos online using Flash might be a thing of the past, because the iPad does not support Flash (per Steve Jobs). Instead, the iPad is looking to HTML5, and so is Google. The most obvious impact will be in Flash-based like Youtube and Hulu, but it's worth reading about HTML5 to get an idea of what the web might look like in the next few years.

 


*I don't know if there is an official style guide for these things, but I decided to always spell "ebooks" the same way I spell "email." If it starts a sentence the first letter gets capitalized, but otherwise it's always all in lowercase, as opposed to eBooks, e-books, etc.



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