Saturday, February 18, 2006

Library outreach: Dealing with the technically challenged

At the workshop I did on library outreach, many of the examples I used had a technology component to them. But clearly, not everyone is as enamored with technology as many of us are. So what do you need to be aware of when reaching out to those who are technically challenged?

Remember to promote those traditional paper-based resources. Consider creating handouts that talks about what resources are available for specific types of questions, and have these handouts available in several places within the library. "Need information on...look at these resources." On that list, mention both the hardcopy and electronic resources. (Personally, I think it would be quite helpful to post information like this on the end of the stacks or even on specific book shelves.)

If you remove a paper-based resource and replace it with an electronic one, put a note on the shelf with information on who to talk in order to get help with the electronic resource. Make the notice as friendly as possible. Consider saying not just that someone will teach the patron how to use the electronic resource, but that someone is available to use the resource on the patron's behalf. Yes, that could mean more work for the library staff, but it will help the patron transition to the new resource and ensure that the person finds the information s/he needs.

Hold short workshops that introduce the technically challenged to the new technologies that the library is using. Do one technology per workshop so that the participants do not get confused. If possible make the workshops interactive, so that the participants can use the technologies. You might consider holding 20 - 30 minute workshops at lunchtime or late in the afternoon, so you can catch people during their lunch break and as they are on their way home after work.

If you believe that some people aren't even coming to the library because of the technologies, then go to where they are (assuming you can find them) and give workshops on their own turf.

Make the library a place where people can come to ask technical questions. You might partner with a computer users group and get them to hold "office hours" in the library on specific days so that people can come and ask questions. Many people have easy technical questions (yet challenging to them), so this could be a wonderful service. Yes, likely you'd need to set boundaries on what types of questions could be asked, how much advice the user group members could give, and that's okay.

As the library embraces more technology, we need to ensure that we don't leave any of our patrons behind. We need to do work for them, teach them, and help them so that they continue to have access to the information that the need.

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