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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/18/09

   January 24th, 2009

default Mac desktopOne of the nice programs my library offers is One-on-One computer training. Patrons can sit with a librarian and get help with any computer issue - searching library resources, setting up email, learning Word, etc.

It's a very popular service, and the appointments are often booked weeks in advance. It's not unusual to make appointments over the phone, but a phone call last week wasn't the typical "help with Word" request:

Patron: I read that you guys do computer classes there?
Me: Yes we do, what would you like help with?
Patron: I know how to use regular computers, but I got a Mac laptop for Christmas and don't know how to turn it on. Can you teach me how to use it?

Now, granted, if I were a Mac person or used Macs with even the most infrequent regularity, I might not have balked at this request. However, as it stands, I explained to her that I didn't know much about Macs, but I would show her what I did know and then we'd use the library's Mac books and learn the rest together.

By the time she came for her appointment, she had figured out how to turn her Macbook Air on. I showed her how to use the AirPort to connect to the library's wireless network, and then showed her how to launch applications from the icons on the bottom of the screen. We went through each of the application icons, and eventually she was getting the hang of it.

Then came her next question:

Patron: How do I get to the games?

Ha. I told her I was pretty sure Macs didn't come with games, but showed her how to use the Finder to search the computer. After going through that a few times (which is probably as much as the average person needs to know about using a computer), we moved on to using the internet.

Her nephew, who had given her the Macbook, had also created both Yahoo and Gmail accounts for her, so we practiced getting to each and logging in. Then came another surprising comment.

Patron: How do I get to the people in my Yahoo address book from my Google account?
Me: I don't think that's something you can do.
Patron: But my nephew said that you can do anything on a Mac, so why couldn't I do this?

Hmm. The rest of the appointment was spent managing expectations of the Mac and just practicing logging into things. Before she left, she made another appointment for the following week, but then called a few days later to cancel it. She said she had been using the computer on her own and felt she didn't need anymore training. Maybe Macs really are easier to use than PCs.

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/18/09”

  1. Chris Says:

    Both Yahoo and GMail allow for address books to be imported by CSV. Not sure if either have an EXPORT feaure, but a quick copy/paste into Excel from GMail should handle that as long as she doesn’t have a million contacts.

    But meh, Yahoo’s SPAM filters are so awful, I’d rather move from Yahoo to GMail. Never mind the less obtrusive ads and more useful features when comparing GMail to Yahoo. GMail wins hands down.

  2. Coral Says:

    Chris is right that Gmail will import a .csv file (it will also export), and I just checked: Yahoo will also export/import a .csv file. So, it is 100% doable to move contacts from one place to the other.

    I really like the one-on-one computer class idea; that makes me incredibly happy. If I ever end up working in a public library, or in an academic library with a large commuter/continuing education population, I think I may borrow this idea. Thanks!

  3. Anne Says:

    We do computer one-on-one’s, and most of the time they are fine. I tend to dread them though. We have a couple of disabled patrons who constantly forget their email information, so we sign them up for a class and they don’t show up (I think we’ve taken care of that problem though, for now).

    I had one very interesting class with two women who needed to set up email accounts. We got through it, but it was a bit painful because their computer experience was limited. The reason they needed emails? They were planning to attend a class on running an ebay business. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they were going to need a whole lot more computer experience for that…


  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    Any time I have to help someone practice logging in to their email account, I just presume that something like importing/exporting is over their head. What she thought the Mac would let her do is have a single address book that she could access from any of her accounts (which would be cool – kind of like a delicious bookmark feed, except with contacts). Actually, I’m not even sure why her nephew set her up multiple email accounts in the first place.

  5. jessamyn west Says:

    Some Macs come with some games but they’re just in the Applications directory and they’re not that nifty. I have no idea if 10.5 has any games that come with.

    I find the “but someone else told me that I can do whatever I want!” reply to attempting to help really strange. It’s as if they don’t like the answer [“no, I don’t think so”] and instead of sort of handling that, they want to blame someone else that the answer is no. I think more to the point, they just have no idea what is possible and what isn’t and get dejected when they take one person’s word for it and then have to decide what to do when someone else’s word conflicts.

    It aseems to me that some people don’t want to learn to be critical thinkers about technology and, unlike the TV or other passive forms of entertainment, it’s pretty hard to be a totally passive technology user.

  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jessamyn: It seems like a fairly common initial reaction, but not just with technology. Many people seem to expect to get whatever they want simply by virtue of wanting it, and thus seem incapable, at least at first, of accepting “no” as an answer (which might be our own fault, because we try to never say “no” to a patron).

    There have been cases when someone comes in looking for a book on a topic, and when I can’t find one, they look at me as if I am personally responsible for not having written before they arrived.

    It is a bit of a leap to go from that specific anticipation to accepting the actual reality of the situation, but it does amaze me that people walk around in this frame of mind.

    That said, I do agree that when dealing with unfamiliar technology, this phenomena might be even worse. With limited understanding, people have even less to grasp on to, and so cling to whatever they can as hard as they can. The sensible approach certainly seems to be to absorb the new information to adjust expectations and move forward.

  7. Auntie Nanuuq Says:

    Mac games? Eric’s Ultimate Solitaire and Ishido… they were both on both of my MACs , but I did buy them from someone who had upgraded. I like my MACS for the games that I can not get on my PC.

  8. Anne Says:

    I overheard another interesting conversation in the library yesterday along these lines. Another staff person was helping a woman set up a gmail account. She told her she would have to choose a user name and create a password.

    The woman then stated/asked that her son had a laptop at home all setup and she would be using that, so wouldn’t she need to use that password?

    It’s always a good reminder that there are a lot of people out there who have no experience with the things we take for granted every day!

    Cheers all!