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 Brian Herzog

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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