Literary Hub

I Am a Librarian, I Am a Tech Whisperer

Nobody tells you that librarianship means understanding how to operate heavy machinery, yet here I sit, once again digging out the smoking guts of a jammed copy machine. When I ask what the patron put into it, they tell me they “found it that way,” though they look at the floor, the ceiling, their hands, anywhere but me or the grunting, squealing, broken monster in front of us.

I clear the debris. The culprit: pink and yellow construction paper. Soft. Too tender for the mawing yap of an industrial copier. Stenciled hearts are barely visible between the tattered shreds.

“Looks like someone was trying to make valentines,” I say. “How romantic.”

The patron nods, guilty as sin. “Looks like it.”

Though some might find it charming that a person was trying to manufacture l’amour in the library (not me, I’m only in love with beer and my dog), it’s a big damn problem that people always jam up the copier with their wild notions about what’s fit to print. If it’s not copy paper, it’s not meant for a copy machine. No, Susan, don’t put those fall leaves on the scanning bed to make a harvest wreath. No, Bradley, the world doesn’t need any copies of your shiny forehead because you decided to smash your face to the glass. Paper. Regular paper. ONLY.

I have a big probably with library technology. Let’s be honest, all libraries do! Mainly, the problem is… it sucks. Most of the time our tech already doesn’t work right, somebody decides to break it, and then we don’t have the money to fix anything. The stuff we get that’s good, that costs money, people use outrageously and then BAM—we don’t have that good thing anymore. Why did you stick your ham sandwich in the disc drive, Tim? It’s not a microwave.

For instance, an item I am expected to use on a daily basis at my library is a fax machine.

Yes, you heard right. A fax machine.

In the Year of Our Lord 2018, I’m expected to understand how to operate a piece of machinery that’s been obsolete since Al Gore invented the internet. As if that weren’t bad enough, when this machine breaks there’s hardly anyone who can fix it because, as I’ve already stated, it’s a dead technology. It’s dead as disco, baby. Yet we’re expected to supply this need to patrons!

“Libraries are constantly working to improve on a shoestring budget and it can be tough when the technology around us grows by leaps and bounds but the library can only afford a Dell from 1999.”

Also: there’s an expectation that librarians and library staff have to understand and successfully operate every viable technological device—even future devices (re: the man who came in wanting me to tell him how to use the new iPhone that hadn’t come out yet)—yet most of the time we’re expected to know how to operate things we don’t even have access to thanks to insufficient funds (re: my bank account haha but seriously re: my bank account). Listen, I just recently replaced my 2008 laptop that weighed as much as a Chrysler sedan, but I am expected to know how your brand new MacBook operates on the cloud. Also now you want me to tell you what the cloud is. Take me now, Jesus.

There’s a wealth of tech that patrons use to access our collections. With the advent of e-resources, it’s become crucial that we have ready access to ebooks, audiobooks, databases, and all manner of other media that’s accessible through the zillion different phones, computers, tablets, and space age rocket technology that patrons bring to the library. We have to know how to operate someone else’s iPhone so we can help them download what they need. That means we not only need to know how our own databases and resources work, but also how they work in relation to tech we’ve never seen before and likely costs more than our salary.

This gets really, really confusing—especially if the person bringing in the tech has no idea how to use it themselves.

Well, they don’t call it a Library Science degree for nothing.

Listen, it’s IMPORTANT. Librarians have to understand how to navigate sites and new tech so they can help patrons apply for jobs, create a good-looking resume, access their benefits, understand their health care and their tax documents and miscellaneous wildly exhaustive forms. We need to be able to help people find government assistance and grants for school, affordable housing, access to educational programs and online academies, and even learning a second (or third or fourth or fifth) language. We need to be able to show people how to register to vote! Locate citizenship classes! Help with finances! Sometimes we need to show how to access these things to people who’ve had no previous access to technology. So we must know how to do this in a way that’s helpful for all parties.

Libraries are constantly working to improve on a shoestring budget and it can be tough when the technology around us grows by leaps and bounds but the library can only afford a Dell from 1999. We also need to be able to navigate social media and the internet and understand the types of technology that kids are using (because it multiplies on itself like Gizmo from Gremlins getting splashed with water). We also want to be able to assist with tutoring and homework help; spaces for kids after school, but also homeschooled families that utilize the library as an additional learning resource.

So yes, I get frustrated when a person decides to stuff newspapers inside the copy machine to see what “print on newsprint” might look like, but it’s a reasonable stress; I know how much people need to use that copy machine and it’s possible we can’t replace it when it finally decides to kick the bucket. Again, this all leads back to libraries being an important resource when it comes to technology. How to use it, how to access it, what it could mean for people’s lives: if my patrons aren’t successful, I’m not successful.

It’s okay. I forgive you. Just don’t jam crayons in the copy machine again. Ever.

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