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


Reference Question of the Week – 7/22/12

   July 28th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Hello.  Have you tried turning it off and on again?I'm on vacation most of last week and next week, so I don't have a real reference question to share. Instead, I thought I'd highlight this post from last year from Lifehacker.com: Top 10 Tactics for Diagnosing and Fixing Your Sick Technology.

Just about everyone who works in a library is a de facto tech support person - whether it be for your own work station, or helping a coworker or patron. So instead of an normal reference question, hopefully this post will help in answering reference questions.

The tips they provide really run the gamut of applicability, but tips I think are most relevant are:

10. Disable Crap You Don't Need.
Helpful in the way they intend, but also relevant in patron support in terms of "focus on one aspect of the problem." For instance, if a patron says, "I can't download books from Overdrive," you have to go through a mental checklist every single time: is their computer connected to the internet, are they getting to the Overdrive catalog, are they checking out the book properly, is their any kind of block on their account, are they getting the right format for their device, etc. By ignoring extraneous details and deliberately going through the process, you can usually fairly quickly identify whatever the problem may be (fixing it, on the other hand, is a different matter).

8. Talk It Out with a Troubleshooting Buddy
This is good for any type of reference question - if you get stuck, ask a coworker. Any two people will probably approach a question differently, and someone else might think of something you haven't. Relying on colleagues is a great way to provide excellent customer service (well, provided you have excellent colleagues).

7. Make Sure It's Not Just You
I actually use downforeveryone.com frequently (and am always oddly delighted when I find someone else who does too). Patrons seem to be less upset about not being able to get into their email if you can show them that the problem seems to be with their email provider, not the library's network.

3. Use Alternative Search Engines When Looking for Help
Definitely. It's good to be come very familiar with your standard tools, but don't be locked into them. And not just search engines - remember to use the library's print resources, databases, vertical file, local resources, etc, when looking for an answer.

2. Hit Up Helpful Q&A Web Sites
I do this all the time, both for answering patron questions and IT support within the library. Patrons think up some pretty weird things, but chances are someone else on the internet has already figured that weird thing out. Look for help forums, and don't be afraid to interact on them. And tell the patron you've asked their question, just to give them a heads-up that the answer might not be immediately forthcoming. Also, any time I get a strange error code, or try to do something slightly counter-intuitive (like read Kindle books on an iPad), searching web forums is a quick way to pick the internet's collective brain. Likewise, calling other libraries, relevant organizations, or real-life experts can be a good idea, too.

1. Restart
This applies to so many things - from literally restarting a frozen public workstation to taking a fresh tack on a difficult problem. Turn it off and turn it back on again is the #1 suggestion for a reason - and why Roy always answers the phone that way:



Tags: , , , , , ,



Talking Tech

   September 22nd, 2009 Brian Herzog

tech support manNew technologies are constantly becoming more integrated into how libraries perform their core functions. As this evolves, staff (and patrons) of all experience levels need to be able to communicate, but this is often difficult and problematic.

Enter Roy Tennant's recent The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology post (via LISnews). It's a good start to getting people unfamiliar with technology to start thinking about technology in realistic terms - it's not something to be afraid of, it's a tool (and even tech people don't know everything). All of his 10 tips are helpful, but #5 is key:

  1. Iterate, don't perfect. Librarians seem to love perfection. We don't want to put any technology out for the public to use until we think it is perfect. Well, we need to get over ourselves. Savvy tech companies know the path to success is to release early and iterate often. One of the major benefits of this is that your users can provide early feedback on what they like and don't like, thereby providing essential input into further development. Do not be afraid of a "beta" or "prototype" label -- people are now accustomed to such, and it can provide the necessary "cover" to being less than perfect.

But this is not new. Roy's post reminded me of two other articles I had seen last year Computers in Libraries:

These two are more focused on how front-line staff can become more comfortable doing their own tech troubleshooting. But best of all, by raising their comfort level and tech competencies, conveying problems to the dedicated tech support (whether internal or external) should also improve.

Naturally, these two articles overlap a bit on the tips that are most important:

  • Make sure the power is on to all components (if not, turn it on and see if that fixes the problem)
  • Make sure all the cables are plugged in and connected firmly (feel free to unplug and plug back in the cables
  • Try rebooting - that works more often than you'd imagine

But also important are the areas in which they don't overlap. The Singer Gordon/West article provide excellent tips on basic tasks anyone using a computer should (but might not!) know. And the Ennis article focuses more on how to avoid more serious problems, identify them when they happen, and then communicate important information to tech support.

My favorite sentence of all three articles comes from Lisa A. Ennis's article, in which she reminds tech support staff that the entire burden doesn't rest with the front-line staff. Her personal philosophy as a systems librarian is:

I'm not here for the technology. I'm here for the people.

That is key. Example: an email system that delivers no spam but sometimes blocks legitimate messages is not a good email system.

Technology is not a one-person game. Everyone uses it, so everyone has a role to play in making sure it works correctly - and that it is serving the mission of the library.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,