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


Reference Question of the Week – 9/9/07

   September 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog
WebTV logo & Netflix logo

Helping this patron after she asked the question was straight-forward, but the question itself was kind of interesting (for three reasons).

Patron: I need help with my Netflix account.
Me: Sure, what's the problem?
Patron: Well, I have WebTV at home, and I just signed up for a Netflix account. It worked far enough to allow me to input my credit card number and purchase the account, but it stopped working when I got to the part were I set up my request list. I called their tech support, and they said that yes, the WebTV browser will not work with this part of the Netflix website, and that I should go to my public library. So here I am.

3 Reasons Why This Is Interesting

  1. People still use WebTV?
  2. WebTV does not work with Netflix
  3. WebTV tech support's solution to this computer problem is the library*

The patron and I went over to one of the public computers, logged into her account, and selected a few movies for her to start with. She figured it out pretty quickly, and should be able to do it on her own the next time she comes in.

*Earlier this week I read a Public Libraries article by David Lee King and Michael Porter entitled, "You as Internet Know-It-All". Basically, it explains why it is important for librarians to (at the very least) be familiar with emerging technology and what's popular, regardless of whether or not we use (or even care about) them ourselves.

I liked the article, but the reference question above nicely illustrates the importance of their point: this patron would not have been served well by a librarian who wasn't comfortable with websites, at least somewhat familiar with Netflix**, and willing to explore something new. This is who our patrons are, and we need to be ready for them.

**And for the record, I don't use Netflix myself. I mean, come on; I work in a public library... every movie I'd ever want to see, and no little red envelopes.

david lee king, librarian, libraries, library, michael porter, netflix, public libraries, public library, reference question, webtv, you as internet know-it-all



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  • Hiya. My name is Brian Herzog, and I am, among other things, a reference librarian at a public library in MA, USA. more about me...

    Email me through my Contact Form
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