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

Take-Home Tech Support, or, Why Second Thoughts Are Important

   October 29th, 2014

tabletphoneLast week, a patron came in and asked for help using the scanner. No problem.

But while I was helping her, she explained that she has an all-in-one copier/printer/scanner that used to work great but is now giving her trouble, hence the trip to the library. She tried describing to me what the problem was, and it seemed like it should be diagnosable and solvable, but I was just not getting it.

One great thing about the emergence of mobile devices, and increasing prevalence of laptops, is that people can bring them into the library for tech support. But with desktops, and in this case copier/printer/scanners, even something that would be simple to correct continues to plague them because it's too difficult to communicate either the problem or the solution remotely.

So, the idea struck me - why not start a program offering in-home tech support? I think it would be unrealistic to send library staff out to patrons' homes, but how about this: we have a special "tech support tablet" that patrons can check out, and then when they get home, use Skype or some other video chat service. That way, I could actually see what the problem was, read the error messages on their screen, see what lights were flashing, tell them which menus to click, etc.

Really, it'd be offering the same service we currently provide to patrons who can bring their devices to the library, so why not offer it remotely too?

Well, any number of reasons, if you think about it. First, this would still be difficult, and not like being there in person. Second, and maybe more frighteningly, who knows what else might show up on the screen besides tech problems. This was basically the reason this idea went no further.

I mean, I still like this idea, and think it could help people. But it would be tricky, and has a lot of downside potential, so for the time being this is just going to be filed under "maybe someday."

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6 Responses to “Take-Home Tech Support, or, Why Second Thoughts Are Important”

  1. Lauren Says:

    The ones who need home tech help are likely to be the ones who are the least comfortable with technology – you know, the patrons where it’s easier to just take the reins and scan their barcode/set their print settings/type their query yourself. I think it could be a potential nightmare adding another new piece of technology into the mix.

  2. Lauren (again) Says:

    Yeah, the more I think of it, the more I prefer the idea of “borrowing” a librarian for home tech help. It would be much better quality help and possible more cost-effective, too. But would going into patrons’ home be beyond the scope of the library’s mission then?

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Lauren: I agree. I was thinking pre-check-out training would go along with the device, including demonstrating how it work: like, “you tap this icon and it opens this window, and look it automatically connects to me at the library.” If it were that simple, I think it would work – but of course, it would never be that simple in real life.

    And although sending library staff in there in person would be way easier, I do not think that would be a good idea for a library program. @MoggieKat seems to second that, for additional reasons.

  4. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    Why send something that the patron has to operate themselves? Just tell them to leave a window open for Flewy Decimal the Library Drone! When you’re not using it to check out peoples’ printers, you can scare the bejeezus out of Books By Mail patrons with it.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @The Librarian: now your talking! A library drone is a way better idea. Fly in and use the remote camera to solve the problem AND deliver books right to patrons’ homes.

    And these drones should also be equipped with a speaker and some read-aloud software – that way, we can upload an ebook to it, fly to a patron’s window, and read them a bedtime story in a robotic voice: “CALL ME ISHMAEL. SOME YEARS AGO – NEVER MIND HOW LONG PRECISELY…”

    That, my No Name friend, might very well be the future of libraries.

  6. The Least Shrew Says:

    I can just see it – you circulate a tech support device, 20 minutes later you get a call at the ref desk asking you to troubleshoot the tech support device 😛

    I think it’d be a great idea in theory, would love to have something like this and not have to rely on over-the-phone descriptions of the issues, but as mentioned, maybe not practical yet.