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...