Witnessing the technological divide

2 Jul

The past two years in library school I have fallen into a rather “techy librarian” group. I’ve been greatly influenced by local librarian friends like Amy Buckland, Lora Baiocco and Graham Lavender who all promote web-based technologies and e-resources in an effort to improve and expand on current library services. My involvement in Web 2.You has also allowed me to meet and discuss new technologies in libraries with great minds like Michael Stephens and Michael Porter along with many other engaging thinkers. I even found myself visiting out of curiosity the websites, blogs or Twitter accounts of various libraries to see how they were using the web to reach out to users. I took the only Web Design course offered through the School of Information Studies at McGill in an effort to increase my ability to reach out to users via the web.

The main reason I have been such a huge proponent of Library 2.0 is its attempts to “meet the users where they are”. I have heard so often in the past two years the phrase “we can’t wait for the users to come to the library; we have to go to them”.  All this has gotten me very excited about the potential of Web-based technologies in libraries. Then I began as a director of a small library in a more “rural” area. In the past week that I have been directly serving our users, I have realized how far off my expectations were of the average level of the technological literacy of the library users in my new community.

I thought that when it came to the technological divide it was mostly an extension of the generational divide; some older people are still clueless about computers whereas all children are being brought up as members of the NetGeneration. I’ve had two encounters this week with young users (a girl who was probably 18 years old and a guy who was around 25 years old) that has demonstrated the inaccuracy of this theory. These users came in separately but they both were both experiencing the same problem. They wanted to use the library computers to print their C.V.s that had been burnt onto a CD and they were having problems opening the file. I checked and in both cases, the original document had been saved as a “Microsoft Works” file which meant that it was not compatible with the library’s Microsoft Office. I was full of questions: What was Microsoft Works? (I’ve since looked it up) Who still uses CDs for saving files needing regular updates like a C.V.? Apparently the users in my community do. For the girl, I was able to help her by walking her through the steps of connecting to the library’s wireless connection with her laptop, showing her how to resave her C.V. by modifying the type of the document to a Microsoft Word document. I then instructed her how to email the newly saved document to herself so that she could then open it on a library computer to print. She had never created an email attachment and I was happy to be presented with such a teachable moment. So the next day, in comes a guy with the exact same issue. I figured I could handle it again, no problem! However, when I started asking the guy more questions, I realized that it would not be as easy. The guy revealed that he did not have a computer, he had used his sister’s computer to write his C.V. and it wasn’t even clear to me if he had saved a copy of the C.V. to the computer’s hard drive or if it had just been burnt onto the CD. When I suggested that he go back to the original computer, change the type of file and then email it to himself, he informed me that he did not have an email address. A guy only a few years younger than me without an email address? Well didn’t this revelation just rock my world.

Come’on users, didn’t you get the memo? Information is all going to be e-based. For library services you will interact with librarian avatars and follow our tweets to discover new releases and upcoming activities. Ahem, I think that I will need to rethink my Library 2.0 approach with my new library community.  I’m not saying that all members of my community are technological illiterate but I think that rather than starting a library twitter account for my library users to follow, I might concentrate my efforts on offering some good old fashion computer workshops like “How to open an email account”. I really like the courses offered by the Milwaukee Public Library. I might use some of their computer class curriculum as a template for developing my own courses. To be continued…


4 Responses to “Witnessing the technological divide”

  1. Justin Unrau July 2, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

    This kind of thing happens at our library all the time. I work in a public library branch where we have piles of kids coming in to use Facebook, so you think they get the internet and how files work and stuff, but they don’t.

    We’re in a low-income neighbourhood where there isn’t a tonne of parental involvement so when these 12 year olds are in there teaching each other how to do their Facebook stuff with superstition and ignorance, I pretty much assume that is the only way they learn about computers. It makes you weep for the future. I want to get them into our “How to Use the Internet” courses (which we have a lot of and are always full, but they’re for adults who aren’t as old as you’d expect) to lay a foundation.

    I swear that the divide isn’t so much a generational thing as a class division thing. If your family can’t afford a computer at home with the monthly costs of internet, you’re falling behind. And people wrapped up in the new shiny aren’t jazzed up about reaching back down the ladder.

  2. Megan F. July 3, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    Great post–this topic is often on my mind. Even in universities, it’s wrong to assume that everyone is tech savvy. I’ve lost count of the numbers of students–regardless of age–who feel the need to preface their requests for help by saying “sorry, I’m not good with computers.” I try my best to reassure them that can’t expect to be comfortable with technology when they’ve never had someone teach them what to do or had the opportunity/inclination to experiment on their own. Many students really are getting set up to fail in universities if their lack of previous experience with technology is disregarded.

    On another note, I recently visited a branch of the Edmonton public library, and they were advertising one-on-one tutorials with a librarian on how to use Facebook and other social media sites. Wow! They also had group classes on e-mail, basic Microsoft applications, etc.

  3. Megan F. July 3, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    P.S. There was a discussion on the Library Society of the World FriendFeed group last week on this very topic: http://ff.im/mVsLL

  4. Amanda Halfpenny July 6, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    Thanks for the interesting comments. Today I met with the professionals from our regional resource center. Apparently there already exists various “Compu-Savvy” courses developed by the New Brunswick Public Library Service and available on our intranet. The fact that these resources already exist is fantastic; unfortunately, in my library there are only 6 public access computers that are spread out over the library. This is definitely not the ideal setup in which to offer traditional computer classes. For the moment I guess I will have to do one-on-one consultations while thinking of other potential solutions.

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