How Will They Learn If We Don’t Teach?

We all had our visions of what working in a library would be like. I worked for a bookstore for a number of years, and so I imagined it would be much the same, except that people would be allowed, encouraged even, to return the books they read.  I entertained grandiose notions of literary salons and book clubs, of quiet hours of shelving and reading the stacks.

What I did not expect was that my stint working for a copy and print company was going to be every bit as important in preparing me to succeed as a library assistant. The print/copy job was very technology driven, and it was my first exposure to assisting customers with shared computers and other equipment. The skills that I acquired from this position have been crucial, because as librarians, we are the keepers of information. It is our duty to share that information with our patrons, in whatever form it may take. Today, more often than not, it comes in a digital format.

We live in an online world. It is how we look for jobs, keep in touch with our family and friends, and learn new things. If one cannot navigate the roads of the Internet, one is lost in this brave new world of technology. My library is located in a somewhat rural, somewhat poor county. The majority of our patrons don’t have Internet access at home. Older patrons have no opportunities to learn necessary, basic computer skills because there aren’t many continuing education options available. We are their first, and often only, resource. Can it be frustrating to have the same conversation on how to download and print an attachment fifteen times a day? Absolutely. Is it just as important as making sure our books are in the right order and that our displays are creative? Again — absolutely.

So how do you survive the “computer station blues”?  For me, it helps to remember what a huge difference we can make in someone’s life. The few minutes I spend walking someone through the steps of uploading their resume (or how to use a template to create that resume) may result in a job for that person. That’s huge! I once spent twenty-five minutes assisting a patron in figuring out to print a file that she only had on her laptop (and our wi-fi was down, so we couldn’t just email it). She was so grateful that she brought me flowers the next week! Not every patron will be that thoughtful, but we can be. We can treat every patron and every instance of technology assistance as if it will change someone’s life. Because even if doesn’t change theirs, it will change ours.

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Author:Belinda Outwater

Belinda “Bel” Outwater hails from Barrow County, GA where she lives with her Eskimo husband and 2 dogs who think they are people. She graduated from Brewton-Parker College with a degree in Religion and plans to pursue a Masters in Library Science next year. She has been a manager for Borders Books, an assistant manager for FedEx Kinkos, a library assistant extraordinaire for the Auburn Public Library, the Library Manager at the Statham Public Library, and is now back at the Auburn Library as the Manager. Her hobbies include reading books, hoarding books, talking about books, and waiting for her letter to Hogwarts.

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