Sunday, October 26, 2008

Types of Computer (Library) Users

I'll preface this week's post by acknowledging that I'm about to make some generalizations. I do understand the evils of categorizing people, but I'm going to do it here anyways because I think it's helpful to my thinking about librarianship. However, I stress there are probably plenty of people who don't fit into any of the categories below.

Now to begin. I've been observing computer users from my spot at the reference desk. They seem to fall into one of these groups:

1) People who are afraid of the computer. 
     These are the people I end up helping the most. They claim ignorance about computers and prefer me to do their tasks for them. They seem convinced they will break something, or make an irreparable mistake, and they require gentle encouragement to use the computer independently.

2) People who are somewhat comfortable with the computer, but who only use it when absolutely necessary and perceive limitations around every corner.
     These are the people who approach me when they've encountered a roadblock of some kind. They have enough skills to accomplish basic tasks, and they have memorized patterns of actions in order to do what they need to. They do not typically experiment with new ways of performing tasks, nor are they curious about computers beyond what they must use them for.

3) People who have adopted computers and accompanying applications & technologies.
     Unless there's a major problem, I rarely interact with these people. They are confident in their computer abilities and are comfortable spending much of their time online. The library may or may not be part of their online activities. MANY people in this category are able to use the library successfully, but some use the library a little blindly (if at all), unaware of the relevance of certain tools but able to get by in their classes. 
     The people who use the library blindly are the hardest people to help, in part because they may be unaware of gaps in their understanding. I think some of them have a fairly limited idea of where information comes from and how it's organized. At this point I should admit that I'm familiar with this group because I used to be part of it, back in my pre-librarian days. I didn't think I needed help and got away with pretty slipshod research. I only realized how weak my research skills were when I became a librarian.

I've been puzzling over it, and I can't figure out how to reach this group. The most obvious way is through library instruction classes, because they they are unlikely to seek help -- they don't think they need it. 

I suppose this is why I've been so preoccupied with library instruction lately. There may only be one chance to reach a person in this group. This means that a single instruction session had better be GREAT...


  1. What's probably even more frustrating is that not only do people in "group 3" not ask questions, they're likely not to even step foot in the library. When I was finishing up my Master's, I pretty much did 100% of my research from my home computer, logging into the library databases remotely. Of course, for me, it probably didn't help that the one time I did e-mail the reference librarian for help, I never got a response (which still makes me a little grumpy).

  2. I know what you mean -- once the group 3 people find out they can access library resources from home, we pretty much lose the opportunity to assist & clarify things from then on.

    And FYI I just tried to respond to a reference email this morning, but the patron had entered her address incorrectly so it bounced back... (-:

  3. Then you have the "patrons who panic." We just installed a new (large)networked printer/copier/fax/scanner/dishwasher. (OK, I exaggerate!) I have very clear instructions posted in 36 point font. For example: "1. Press the "Printer" button." My desk is situated so that my back is to the copier, but I know when a patron walks up and stands there, staring at the instructions with a panicked look on their face. I walk over, and we go through the instructions together. Printing done, they walk away happy. Then ten minutes later, the same person is there with the same panicked look. ARGH!

    ~Susanna Smith 8-)

  4. I have my instructions for how to print in the library down to a script that I can rattle off while simultaneously doing 4 other things. Students are amazed at my telepathy because I predict all of their questions. We're working on some library FAQs but I really don't think that'll help --it's much easier to ask the librarian.