Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When Technology Doesn't Do What It's Supposed To ...

A bit more snow on Tuesday

This may be a common trope here, but for all the work I do teaching people how to use the library and how to find and get the materials they need, I also troubleshoot a lot of purely technology problems. I'm bringing this up again because I've modified my opinions: In the past I may have complained about having to support technology problems instead of library problems, but now I think we should be professionally embracing both. The word 'troubleshoot' brings to mind images of changing toner cartridges and checking power cords, but a lot of troubleshooting can be subtle and sophisticated and can require a certain amount of expertise.

For example, the cognitive process of finding the right keywords to search an academic database for a given topic can be really tricky for students accustomed to typing "when was prezidnt lincon shot?" into google and being matched with the correct answer.

Also, despite everyone's best efforts, many online interfaces are poorly designed and difficult to use.  Savvy users will be able to overcome confusing web design, but many people -- even those who use computers and cell phones somewhat regularly -- are limited in their computer skills and have little understanding of how the underlying technology works.

In addition, when we support systems outside of the library -- such as the online materials attached to textbooks -- we increase our value to the institution as a whole. Often when a service is moved online, the expectation is that there will be no need for human mediation. When this proves false, librarians are often on the front lines of supporting services outside of our expertise. Instead of rejecting this role, why not expand outside of the library and become proficient in understanding the college's email and online course management systems? 

We strengthen the profession when we can not only provide but demonstrate the value of human assistance with technology problems. There may be a day when this is no longer necessary, but I doubt it. And although I still occasionally catch myself asking "Is this the best use of my time?", I now see the library as a more holistic space, where a traditional reference question may intersect with an off-campus authentication question, and where I should be able to assist with both. When I can, it improves people's perceptions of the overall usefulness of librarians.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you about embracing new roles as a college librarian to improve people's perceptions of the overall usefullness of librarians.
    At the college I work at, I've had to learn the course management system, college's email account set-up, etc. As I think about the overarching mission of the Learning Resource Center, I realize that librarians are poised to assist with providing "learning resources" that go beyond the traditional definition. Any service/resource to help the learning process (whether helping students with research and navigating all the college systems they interact with OR assisting faculty to improve their instruction) I consider to be worthwhile librarian tasks.