Browse Month by November 2012
Education, Literacy, STEM

Douglass Branch Tech Volunteering

The Champaign branch library, located on the north-central side of town, is small and quiet. It is about the size recreational room of a park district. It is attached to a community room, which for the four out the five times I have been has been occupied by moms and their infants or toddlers. You can’t hear them playing from the library, but they’re visible through the outside window. After a bit they come in with their excitable young ones, ready to read. Some of the walls are painted a bright green, which provides for a fun, welcoming atmosphere. Popular and new fiction and non-fiction is located at the entryway of the library. Staff is to the right, a number of bookshelves and DVDs are to left, and just beyond front desk is the computer lab.

The lab takes up quite a bit of space in the library. In my observation, more than four patrons at the same have not occupied it. I wonder if it gets busy on the weekends. With the exception of a visiting librarian from CPL, three staff have been present the days I’ve attended. The branch manager, Amanda and Aaron all more or less have the same routine of checking out books, shelving and inputting books into the computer. They often help patrons print or navigate to a webpage.

It was not until the third time I attended that I met Jan. Jan is a local woman who hates her real name, so she uses her middle name. She came with a friend who seemed to be more knowledgeable about the use of Internet and technology than she. Unless Jan asked her a question she worked independently. The first activity Jan was interested in was downloading new e-books to her Kindle. Though I tried to help her, I was not familiar with the program or process, so I asked for help from Aaron. I watched Aaron go through the motions with Jan, which took quite some time. Aaron later demonstrated the process again, which had to be no fewer than 10 steps. We discussed how downloading e-books should not be so time consuming and difficult.

After Kindle success, Jan asked how to find information on why she was killing her houseplant. I told her how I was in the process of killing a mum a friend gave me recently, so I could relate (It’s dead now). She used the address bar to begin her search. When that yielded a failed page I explained the difference between a search box like Google and the address bar. She used Google Search as the address bar a couple times after, but eventually (I think) caught on. Her search terms were long-winded, and we talked about summarizing search terms and sentences when searching. She found that, much like the mum, her plant was one of the easiest to care for. She concluded that she is probably overwatering her plant and needs to move it to a better lit place.

Lastly, we worked on finding a resource for healthcare. Jan had worked for the U.S. Postal Service for over 20 years. She recently retired but was being charged over $500 per month for health benefits. She first searched for insurance carriers in central Illinois, but when that yielded uncooperative results, I looked up the number of the Help Desk. Dawn was not available, but Jan said she’d try again in order to talk to someone who wouldn’t give her the raw end of the deal. I think Jan will be back and we’ll continue to work and learn about each other.

The Monday before Thanksgiving I substituted for a classmate for a group of fun-loving seniors. At 1:45 seven seniors arrived with two escorts from their center. Amanda had initially planned to start them on mouse basics, but we were flexible, as we did not know the skills of each senior. It turned out mouse exercises were the right skill level for all of them. Some had difficulty understanding how the mouse worked, and therefore moving the mouse around seemed “unnatural” as one senior put it.

I found that demonstrating helped to a degree, but what really helped was when I placed my hand on top of theirs so they could better sense when and where to move. Interestingly, I only tried this tactic after speaking with them for a bit. A few minutes of conversation can build a little trust and/or comfort.

Most difficult for me was watching how frustrated many of them became with being unable to move the mouse as they wanted. In large part, it is their physical inability to move the mouse, but I also think that it is their inexperience with such unusual tools. I recently tried to use a video game controller, which took several virtual deaths to figure out, and I was still slow at the uptake. Amanda and the two escorts also helped seniors with activities, while Aaron manned the desk. It was wonderful having four instructors, the teacher ratio to students was most helpful.

When I am not helping a patron, I add to a resource list we have created. Much like any job, it is difficult to know how to respond and what to say to customers at first, so reading material of others’ such as teaching strategies, is important, and I will continue to do that.

(This reflection was written for Community Informatics, a service-learning class where we volunteer at our local library to help patrons with tech support and we contribute to the CU Wiki.)