Should Tech Support Be An Explicit Library Service?

January 1, 2007

“Tech support is the key to our future”, wrote Laura Cohen in a post entitled The Accidental Tech Support Librarian. When I read this post, I had an real ah-ha, dawn-breaks-over-marble-head moment. I think that Laura is on to something that hasn’t really been talked about too much in the library world. Tech support has become a real problem in our computerized world. Computers, online systems, and technology play a large part in most people’s day to day lives. Despite the prevalence of technology, problems and issues abound. Laura explains the problem:

Our role in tech support has evolved slowly but surely as our operations have moved online. It’s sneaked up on us and now it’s a part of our (often unstated) mission. I suppose you could say it’s the law of unintended consequences at work. Put something online, and people will have problems using it, so the type of support we provide has undergone a transformation. We’re a service profession and providing help is in our blood, so we forge ahead and try to solve problems that are laid at our feet. We’re accidental tech support staff.

I think this is right on target and is a great explanation of tech support, especially for patrons, in the library. Laura is primarily concerned with the types of problems that remote users have – and she has a point that remote use has created a whole host of support issues. However, I think that tech support is as much of an issue for users within the walls of the library. In my library, we have three lab areas: one is primarily designed for reference use, one is a classroom setting used as an space for bibliographic instruction, a space for faculty to book classes on a one time basis if they need additional technology and as an open lab when a class isn’t in session and the last is an open computer lab that has software in support of classroom use. This means that people in the library aren’t just using library resources. They are also using word processing products, email clients, web-based social software sites, IM clients, statistical software programs, html editors, photo editing software, etc., etc., etc. Traditionally, the library is very different from ITs help desks which don’t often offer specific program support – and are staffed by students in off hours. I’ve noticed that if students are having difficulty with something they often come to the library to ask because there are staff people available – who are willing to at least try and help.

Ultimately, libraries need to decide whether they will provide technical support to their clientele. I personally think that if we offer technologically-driven services, we should be obligated to provide good, reliable and consistent support for them. Going further, we should not provide any service to patrons that we cannot support. Currently, I don’t think that we are doing a good job of providing technical support – specifically because we are still providing accidental tech support in a rather haphazard and inconsistent manner. Laura exhorts us to

. . . be clear about the types of tech support we’ll provide to remote users when the problem rests with their technology setup. Let’s determine who will provide this support, and at what levels. Let’s be sure that staff on the front lines are sufficiently trained to handle common questions and make appropriate referrals. Let’s provide decent Web-based FAQs to assist with basic, recurring issues. And by all means, let’s conduct regular assessments.

Again, my only addition is that we should be doing exactly this but including detailed support guidelines for those patrons who use our services in house.

In my experience, library staff on the front lines provide incredibly inconsistent technical support to our users. Certain staff have a greater understanding of technical issues and are more willing to try and help when problems arise. Obviously, they have only good intentions by trying to help. But are we doing more harm by providing asymetric service to our patrons? Wouldn’t it be incredibly frustrating for a user to ask for help with something like wireless and one day get the right answer and the next get no help at all? Shouldn’t we be able to provide patrons with clear cut and consistent answers to what we can support and what we cannot.

Do I believe that this will be easy to sort out? No, I do not. However, I think we need to make tech support an explicit library service and one which our patrons are aware of. Thanks to Laura for her post – and bringing this subject to light.


A Creative Twist To The Five Things Meme

January 1, 2007

Kathy Sierra, from Creating Passionate Users, kind of turned the five things meme around a bit into Five(ish) Things I Don’t Know About You. I like the way that she is trying to find out more than the standard statistical information about her readers. Kathy writes:

Obviously it depends on the context–you’d ask different questions of someone you’re dating vs. a job interviewee vs. a customer vs. someone your daughter is dating. But I wonder, should the questions we ask our users be that different from the ones we’d ask our dates

The long and the short is that Kathy is asking her readers some more personal questions about them. As a loyal reader, I thought I would join in. So here goes (the questions are directly pasted from the original post over at Creating Passionate Users:

0) What’s your name and website URL? (optional, of course)
Jennifer –

1) What’s the most fun work you’ve ever done, and why? (two sentences max)
Successfully solving difficult technical problems is fun. I guess because it is incredibly rewarding.

2) A. Name one thing you did in the past that you no longer do but wish you did? (one sentence max)
I loved managing a government documents department in the library where I still currently work.

B. Name one thing you’ve always wanted to do but keep putting it off? (one sentence max)
I always wanted to be a computer programmer.

3) A. What two things would you most like to learn or be better at, and why? (two sentences max)
I would love to be learn to better at computer programming and drawing, painting or some other type of artistic endeavor. Programming could help me in my job, but being more artistic would help me be a more creative type of person.

B. If you could take a class/workshop/apprentice from anyone in the world living or dead, who would it be and what would you hope to learn? (two more sentences, max)
I don’t think that I have an answer to this. I’m much more interested in learning things in a more global way without the need for a particularly personal connection to one person.

4) A. What three words might your best friends or family use to describe you?
Dependable, quiet, and reserved

B. Now list two more words you wish described you…
Creative and fun

5) What are your top three passions? (can be current or past, work, hobbies, or causes– three sentences max)
Having a happy marriage and home life, being a good/decent person and being good at my job.

6) (sue me) Write–and answer–one more question that YOU would ask someone (with answer in three sentences max)
What do you consider your greatest achievement in life? The love and support of my family friends without whom nothing else in my life would matter.

Bonus: What is one question you wish people would ask themselves?
Why am I afraid of people who think differently than I, act differently than I and believe in different things than I do? 

What Is It About The First Of The Year . . .

January 1, 2007

that makes one feel the need to recount the year’s activities and pass judgement upon them? I generally don’t like to look back at my life and recount things that I wish I would have done better or even dwell on things that went well. Honestly, I think for me that is a waste of time. You can’t change the past – you can only learn from it to make smarter choices in the future. However, there seems to be some sort of biological (or psychological) imperative that makes people ponder the past year as the calendar year comes to a close (or begins anew).

Over the past few months, I’ve been a bit stressed, somewhat overworked and maybe not in the happiest frame of mind. This past semester was a difficult one for me to get through – and has made me question a bit what I am doing in life. Given this feeling, I was a bit hesitant to let my mind wander over the past year because I didn’t want to think too much about it. However, today I was thinking about what I have actually accomplished this year and I was a bit surprised by how much I actually did. I worked full time, took five graduate level classes, took a two week vacation with my husband to St. Martin and put a great deal of time and effort into this blog. I didn’t do anything that would change the world, but I feel pretty good about what I did accomplish. As it stands, I am half way through the MLS program at SCSU. My work is going well. This blog has become much more than I ever really expected. And, being away from school of late has given me a chance to gain a better perspective on school. Really, I’m in a great position right now as opposed to where I was on January 1, 2006. I guess the bottom line is that I am happy with my life, what I am doing and where I am. Cool!

Out With The Old . . . In With The New

January 1, 2007

To celebrate the beginning a new year, I thought I should do something to help reduce the clutter that often surrounds me. Given my lack of fondness for cleaning or organizing things in the physical realm, I decided it would be appropriate to go through my blog subscriptions to weed them out. I was partly inspired by Walt Crawford’s Bring out the dead blogs! post and partly influenced by my desire to do as much as possible today without having to leave the couch. With that in mind, I’m happy to say that I was able to delete over 40 blog subscriptions which now leaves me with about 180 left – ready to add any new and interesting blog subscriptions that may crop up this year. Bring ’em on.

On an irritating and distressing side note, my car won’t start. I’m not really a superstitious person – however, I’m a little bit concerned about what this bodes for 2007. Hhmmmm!!!!