Book of funny encounters between librarians and patrons


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this looks great. ordered.

I used to think I’d like working at a library…

Curious that all three examples come down to helping clueless people with computers. Is that what the library has become now? A public computer lab? I don’t think I’d like to work there either.


Doesn’t sound that funny if it is all about shaming the computer illiterate.
I do like my local library that runs a display of all the biblio-ephermera found inside books.

Library confusion comes in many forms; computer illiteracy is just commonly encountered. We still get people requesting: “That book they showed last night on the news with the red cover and the picture of the dog…”
“I want a paper copy of the newspaper from 1949.”
“Do you know someone who will type my paper for me? Can you?”
“I was NOT drinking!” (with an open can of beer in the paper bag by his seat)
“What do you mean, I can’t plug in my coffeemaker here?”
and on and on and on


I can’t blame people for being computer illiterate. Computers are designed by crazy people for other crazy people and basically make no friggin sense. The internet just made everything even worse. Layers and layers of abstraction. 3.5" floppy icons for uploading JSON encoded blobs of data from Javascript web pages via HTTP over ethernet, copper cables and thousand kilometer optic fibers, to be stored in redudant servers scattered around the globe on solid state chips and spinning magnetic drives. Oops, something went wrong, says the patronising website. Yeah, maybe something did.


I think that third guy has a big future as a marketing consultant.

I read the three examples out to my librarian sweetie. Now we’re both twitching slightly. I think we’re going to have to get a copy of this. (Possibly via the library, of course.)

Where else are people going to pick up these skills? There are plenty of studies that disprove the hypothesis that simple exposure to technology will create meaningful digital literacy.

  1. Libraries are a public space.
  2. Libraries connect people to information
  3. Libraries help people make sense of that information

I work in an urban library (specifically, the in-house makerspace). While a large part of my job is helping kids learn how to make Lego robots and teaching people how to make 3D models, I spend a large chunk of time helping people with very basic digital literacy stuff.

Honestly, the only times that it is a negative experience is when the person I am working with starts from a “shut up and do it for me” position. Generally, though, most people just need to hear that using a computer is a skill that needs to be practiced. If you aren’t a student in compulsory education, where else are you going to get the guidance and feedback to learn?

Personally, I find anecdotes like the ones in the book illuminating; they lay bare the assumptions that experienced computer users take for granted. If you read these and think “how can people be so dumb?” you are just indulging your own privileged position in society.


It may sound trite, but I genuinely feel like I make a difference in people’s lives. Case in point:

Earlier last year I helped someone write a resume and apply for some jobs. When she asked how she could thank me (we don’t sully our work with the expectation of payment), I told her that she can give me a high five if she got a job. I ran into her a few months later and I was able to collect.


[quote=“ben_ehlers, post:10, topic:38193”]If you aren’t a student in compulsory education, where else are you going to get the guidance and feedback to learn?[/quote]Structured adult education classes and workshops?


I don’t get it – stories about librarians and not one where a female librarian takes off her glasses and releases her hair from a bun?


In the case of the Multnomah County library:
“She ran her fingers through her purple-tinted buzzcut, fluorescent light glinting off her nose ring, offering a peek at her ‘Ex Libris’ tattoo over her archives.”


When I worked at the General Libraries at UT in the '70’s there was the story of (presumably) a freshman who asked at the info desk about a book his prof suggested reading called, ‘Oranges and Peaches’. When asked if he had the name of the author, the student replied, “Uhm, Darwin?”

I could always tell a freshman simply because most of them seemed flummoxed by the Library of Congress cataloging system and couldn’t find anything.

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Whoa! :slight_smile:

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In the 21st century, many libraries do function as public computer labs, among other things. While many of the visitors there are computer-illiterate, the same can be said of many, or even most, office workers - even those who use computers daily.

Those people are no more clueless than you or I, or anyone else. They just have different priorities, and know about different things. This is why tablets and smartphones are so popular - they provide all the computing power most people want or need to get things done online.

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Well of course people can do structured adult education classes, but let me reply with an anecdote:

One of the most requested services we have in the library is help with résumés. It’s huge. Dozens of requests a day, sometimes. The most obvious way to answer this demand would be to have structured résumé workshops, right?

Wrong! Very few people come to these workshops, and the best answer we have is that writing a resume for most people is something you do when you need a job, and in many cases this qualifies as a stressful emergency situation. Registering for a workshop requires time out of your day (which is scarce if you are busy working), and patience, as you may have to wait a few weeks for the next workshop to start (and if you need a job now, that’s not an option).

I would say the same pattern forms the foundation for most of these stories. Sure, someone may proactively think, “You know, maybe someday I’ll have to fill out an online form. I should take a class on how to download PDFs, edit them after installing Adobe Reader, and then upload them back to the Internet.” But for most people, not so much. Why would they sign up for a course if they don’t know a particular piece of technology exists and/or it has no immediate relevance? Many of people’s first interactions with technology are forced on them by circumstance.


I work in technology and these kinds of questions are so interesting to me, because the techies who write the software have no idea how much people do not understand what is happening on the computer.

Recently I spent a week with my Mom traveling and i spent time with her explaining the difference between connecting to wi-fi at home and at a public place or hotel, and when her email would update. She is a smart enough lady but this is all new to her.

Yes, it’s funny that someone doesn’t really understand Word from Chrome and wants to sound like they know stuff about computers by saying, “Which is your favorite?” but it’s also sad that people have so little concept of how their computers work that would help them to do things in the modern world. How many people can’t get a job because, like my friend, they make the mistake of (gasp) walking a resume into the HR office because ten years ago that was a way to stand out, and now it makes you look so way off the mark - and the fact is, she found their website too confusing to use?