This Might Be The Cure

I actually had to get myself out of a nice, relaxing bath tonight in order to write this post. For some reason, I kept mulling over this post while I should have been emptying my mind. Since my last post about my blogger’s block, I have deliberately stayed away from blogging. I found that trying to write a blog post was driving me nuts. I decided that inspiration would come when it wanted, not when I wanted. If anyone with any type of divine power is listening to me, I would prefer inspiration wait until I have finished my bath next time.

Anyway, Meredith Farkas is responding to a post written by Dorothea Salo titled Training-Wheels Culture - and to some responses by other bloggers. I have to admit that I was immediately bothered by Dorothea Salo’s original post. I responded with my own post – one with which I am not overly happy and wished I hadn’t written. This isn’t because I disagree with what I wrote, but because I don’t think that I spent the time to put together a coherent post (I still don’t understand how cataloging figures in here). Hopefully, this one will better capture what I want to say – hope springs eternal!

The problem being discussed here is people who work in libraries who seem to be unwilling to try and figure out many technical problems on their own. Rather than trying to read the screen, look up the answer or try, they prefer to ask someone to help – hence the “training-wheels culture” moniker. As I mentioned before, I have found myself irritated by a question to which I believed the asker should have known the answer. I have helped people with simple problems that I may not have believed to be worth the time that I spent answering them. But in my years offering technical support to library staff, I have come to realize that we have a real problem in this area. Blaming library staff for their inefficiency or their need to cling to a “training-wheels culture” is not productive – nor do I believe it is a solution to help solve the problem at hand.

One of the things that I really like about Meredith’s post is the fact that she is asking questions about this. She writes:

I really want to understand what is at the root of this training-wheels culture, because we can’t combat it until we understand the cause(s). What do you think it is? Cultural? Laziness? Lack of interest? A difference in learning styles?

I firmly agree with Meredith that we need to understand what is happening here.  Are people afraid of technology? Are people discouraged from trying to figure things out? Are those of us who are making judgements about what other people should be able to do on their own wrong? There are so many potential explanations, and yet, technophiles seem to want to blame people for not being technologically savvy. Is this really fair?

In my experience, people are not encouraged to play, to try new things, or to figure things out on their own. As technology becomes more pervasive and more complicated, IT departments are desperate to prevent users from being able to cause major disruptions. They are employing security software, firewall rules, etc. in order to prevent users from doing damage. Software manufacturers are following suit by locking down operating systems, software packages, etc. Certain programs actually require certain screen resolutions – using ones that make the icons as small as possible (why is this???). People are discouraged from doing things that may cause problems or may go against the norm – and are thus, fearful of getting viruses, corrupting their computers or making a move without tech support. Can you blame them?

We have a big problem. There is a digital divide in libraries – staff who understand and adapt to technology and staff who do not (the same can be said of patrons – but that is another story). We can get as frustrated as we want with this, but that is not productive. We are not going to change people’s behaviors by complaining or by demeaning them. There has to be a better way.

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2 Responses to This Might Be The Cure

  1. I can’t generalize this to all libraries, although I suspect that it is pretty widespread, but I think there is still a lot of residual resentment in some quarters over being pushed out of the card catalog era. And it’s not bad enough to have to learn how to use a computer–the hardware and software changes every couple of years! One of my users, for example, is very attached to a particular MS application which uses an entirely proprietary format. I once offered an open source alternative, or even a better, more powerful Adobe alternative, but s/he demanded that I not make him/her learn anything new for at least the next 7 years, until s/he reaches retirement age. Of course I laughed, but s/he wasn’t kidding.

    We’re never going to make all librarians over into systems people. But as far as hard-to-use applications go, that’s the vendors’ fault, not the users. My staff computers aren’t nearly as locked down as in some libraries I know about, but I tell my users that they *can’t* break anything and that, if they do, it’s not their fault but the vendor’s. I don’t know if it’s made a difference, though. There’s not a whole lot of literature about effective ways of training pre-1980 librarians about technology, especially if they’re not interested in learning. But we can’t wait for them all to retire–by then it will be too late for the rest of us, and the general public might not think they need libraries any more.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Sharon, I hear you. You make some excellent points. I agree that the problem with software is much larger than in just the library arena. Software is poorly made – often not user-friendly. We definitely need to make the users feel more comfortable with technology.

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