Who cares?

I was in an interesting meeting the other day with one of the local public librarians in our region and the head of the local public television station. We were discussing possible collaborative projects when the librarian mentioned the people she knows who are still unclear on computers…..and why they should care.

Many of us learned computers because we’ve had jobs that required we do so. Others learned because they were curious about this new technology. Still others were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the computer age. And, of course, there are those who are digital natives, like my DSD, who grew up with them and don’t think of a computer as any more puzzling than a telephone.

There’s another group of folks out there. We see them every now and then in our libraries. They come in, tentative, asking about the computers. And they’re shy because they need to use the computer, but don’t know how and feel foolish asking. We offer classes and gently guide them through the intricacies of the Web, teaching them how to fill out the job application or shop or e-mail their son in Iraq.

But Ann touched on the group out there who just don’t get the whole computer thing….and don’t really care. They don’t know why they should care. Not infrequently, if you talk to one of these folks and mention that you can shop, or search for your ancestors, or e-mail your son/daughter/mother/cousin/college roommate, or book a cruise….well, then they start to understand why this new thing might be kind of fun to have around and get to know.

My mind traveled down this path as a result of this story (emphasis mine):

LONDON (Reuters) – A British judge admitted on Wednesday he was struggling to cope with basic terms like “Web site” in the trial of three men accused of inciting terrorism via the Internet.

Judge Peter Openshaw broke into the questioning of a witness about a Web forum used by alleged Islamist radicals.

“The trouble is I don’t understand the language. I don’t really understand what a Web site is,” he told a London court during the trial of three men charged under anti-terrorism laws.

Prosecutor Mark Ellison briefly set aside his questioning to explain the terms “Web site” and “forum.” An exchange followed in which the 59-year-old judge acknowledged: “I haven’t quite grasped the concepts.”

Now, be honest. When I was referring earlier to the folks who don’t get it and don’t know why they should care, your mind immediately jumped to your 80-year old mother, right? Perhaps that’s why this story struck me so. This judge is an educated BABY BOOMER.

So.  We have a lot more work out there than we might have thought.  There’s a whole population that has no idea what the Web is about, why it could be useful, and why they should care.

We need to help them understand and discover.   As Information Professionals, this is another tool in our vast repertoire of information sources, and we need to be helping folks discover how it might help them, just as we helped people understand other information formats over the years.

We need to help them care.  In the memorable words of a character on the television series The West Wing,

“This just in: The Internet is not a fad.”

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3 Comments

Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship

3 responses to “Who cares?

  1. Amanda

    I have to comment on this. I’m a 50-year-old librarian, just out of library school a year ago (nth career). My husband (married a year ago) is 65 but has been retired for about 14 years. My dad has been retired about the same amount of time but is 78.

    I’m actually not surprised that a 59-year-old educated man might not know much about the Web. Computers require some typing ability, and men of roughly that age and older generally did NOT learn to type in school. My dad and husband are fairly good with Excel, from the nature of their work, but both struggle with e-mail. Navigating around on the web can be intimidating for both of them, and maneuvering with keyboards and mice (let alone a touchpad) is not easy. My husband has had arthritis in his hands since at least that age, so that is another consideration.

    I think the problem is not such much not caring, but that the technology can be a little intimidating particularly when your dexterity is impaired and/or your keyboarding skills are weak. Some folks really do get embarrassed when they have a hard time maneuvering around the Internet.

  2. I hadn’t thought of that angle, but I can certainly understand the issue!

    Part of what I’m starting to realize is that there are people who don’t really understand why computers might be a good thing to learn. My Mom was given a laptop by one of my brothers, who also set their house up with a wireless network. She plays solitaire on the thing.

    Actually, the issue of the aging population and our increasing lack of dexterity (if my aging knees are any indication, this isn’t going to be pretty) brings up another issue: what accommodations are we making for people who find a traditional mouse difficult to maneuver?

    Thanks for the comments, Amanda!

  3. Donovan

    This issue is particularly difficult because, as a profession, we still haven’t completely addressed it. There are still librarians who don’t feel they should have to know how to use a computer. After all, aren’t libraries about books? Or they feel that they shouldn’t have to learn any more once they know how to use the integrated library system. We have to help ourselves before we can help our patrons.

    Fortunately, the profession is coming along and I think things are getting better. But we’re not there yet.

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