As we speed toward 2014, one thing we can be certain of, there will be questions about ebooks and digital content and there will be a need for technology instruction on the fly. The questions will come via phone, chat, e-mail, and in-person: They will be varied; they will be hard; there will be things that don’t work correctly. This is the reality of library reference desks today. It will not get easier and things you learn today, you will need to relearn tomorrow. So what to do, what to do?
First, don’t panic! Technology questions at the reference desk are in most ways, no different than any other in-depth reference question you get. You are not expected to have every answer stored in your brain. You often have to do a full-blown reference interview to understand what the user really wants—it won’t necessarily be what they asked for. You have to understand the basics of the materials you have and how to access them. Finally, you need to know where to look for the answers.
Below are a few fantastic resources and ideas available to you right away. They probably aren’t exactly what you need—because they don’t come from your library, but they are similar to what you will need and you can adapt. There is no one universal and final place that will provide you what you need. Likewise, there is no money in the budget to get you trained every time things change and there is no time in the day to clear your schedule to teach yourself. So keeping these limitations in mind, there is soooo much available to you!
Resources for Teaching Patrons to Download an eBook:
Screen Shots: I am a huge fan of screen shots. They provide you with a visual to give the patron that they can write on while they learn. They can take them home and step through the process again. On our reference desk, I keep a few copies of these ready to go. Not sure what I mean. Check out these great resources from Monroe Township Library. I love that they have them right on the website so patrons can grab them on their own 24/7. This brings me to another super source:
Other Libraries: Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. There are loads of libraries in NJ that have terrific ebook and digital content tutorials and materials freely available. If you are not comfortable telling your patrons to use another library’s resources, use them as templates to create your own. Creating handouts and tutorials are a great way to solidify learning a skill—it might be just what you need to get comfortable. I often head over to the Monroe website because I think they do so much right.
One of the best things Monroe does is have online videos that step you through the process. Karen Klapperstuck is fantastic and the materials she made are amazing. I regularly send people who call me on the phone to the Monroe videos because my library doesn’t have that kind of support available. One of the biggest problems with ebook instructions is that they are incredibly complex and it takes many words to describe them. This makes written materials pretty horrible—when you give them to people you can see the panic in their eyes, then in about a half second their start to mumble something and wander off. Can you blame them? Screen shots and videos are much more user friendly.
Your e-book provider:
Yes, that’s right, there is all kinds of tutorials and help readily available from your ebook service provider. What’s that you say—online help is like the outer-rings of hell?!? Yes, indeed it often is. However, where e-books are concerned, every provider understands that if your patrons aren’t happy, you won’t be happy. They have made great strides in providing usable support materials and they should be your go-to resource. You can see many of the Overdrive products here. This is the help page the users at Somerset County Library System see when they hit the help key. As you can see, there is a lot of stuff here. Some are good, like the Overdrive Help and some are useless, like the Device Resource Center which is too busy and has too much other information. If you say Device Resource Center, I want to see a list of devices and when I find my device and click, I want screen shots or video showing me step by step how to download a title.
Other vendors too offer plenty of support. 3M’s support page is terrific. The thing I like best about it—no explanation about the lack of compatibility with Kindle. That doesn’t matter and they even provide clear instruction on how to use the service on a Kindle Fire tablet. If only Overdrive provided something so easy for iPad users to explain how to use the Kindle App!
The Interwebs: That’s right, I am telling you to use Google. Not for the routine stuff, but definitely for the strange stuff. Chances are that super strange thing that has happened and you’ve no clue as to why has happened to someone else. When I am trouble shooting and my normal step by step process doesn’t work, I go to Google. There was only one time when my problem was not solved this way. A day after I had that problem, it was all over Google. Clearly, I was one of the first, but not the only person who suffered through an overnight change (when Apple updated the iOS this last time). My point, do not think you are stuck in a black hole of strange stuff—all over the world, people are frustrated with checking out ebooks at their libries.
Other Professionals: That’s right, ask around. One of the things I love best about LibLand is the collaborative nature of this field. There are wonderful resources, like LibaryLink TechEx, available to anyone in the state. In addition, most of the people I have met through my involvement with NJLA are more than happy to help me when I need it. For example, my library only offers ebooks via Overdrive. Now that there are multiple platforms, I really felt my skills were slipping. I have reached out to a few contacts and they have graciously said—sure, come on over. I will go that extra mile—most likely on my own time—so that I am prepared to discuss the various platforms when I speak or write in forums like this.
There are a number of social networking groups that can also help—on Facebook there is the open group Librarians in Overdrive created by Heidi Schwab. This is a terrific forum for asking questions and finding answers. Another great group is Technology Training and Libraries, also on Facebook. This group talks about all kinds of technology, but there is plenty on ebooks and digital content. The beauty of these groups is that it is very easy to find an accomplished librarian who has already been through what you are going through.
I am more than happy to help my fellow librarians—please, don’t hesitate to give me a call or shoot me an email. I am sure I’m not the only person!
Speaking of professionals….
One of the best things Monroe Township does on their webpage is provide users with a name, a phone number and an e-mail for a digital content point person. This makes the patrons feel supported—it isn’t anonymous, it isn’t consider so simple a child could do it, it is something that is complex and there is someone who can help—a specific person. That matters a lot! Much of ebook instruction is anonymous and general. Despite there being different quirks along the way, many things you find will try hard to be generic. That is frustrating and scary to someone who doesn’t have a clue where to begin. All libraries should have a specific point person for digital content.
I know, I know—that person isn’t always there; it isn’t fair that some librarians refuse to learn this stuff; who has time for that; we don’t have the time/training/budget/tools to let one person become the expert?!? Believe me, I feel the same way. But let’s face it—it happens anyway. I have no official title, resources, training, or support, but I am the ebook point person in my branch. I can either be angry about that (and I am sometimes) or I can embrace it. I choose to embrace it. Well, ok 90% of the time I embrace it, the other 10% I grin and bear it and bitch to my friends about it.
I know you don’t want to hear that, but it is true. I know I hate saying it and don’t want it to be true. Sadly, there are many working librarians who simply refuse to learn how to download items and/or troubleshoot technology problems. It is wrong. It is unfair. It should not be allowed to happen, but it does. Everyone I know who is good at ebooks bemoans that there are others they work with who won’t even try. Unless you have the power to fire that person, you are going to have to learn to deal with it. It isn’t the patron’s problem, so get ready to be annoyed and smile and help. I think it is an excellent idea to have an acknowledged point person and strategies in place for dealing with help requests while there are in the library and when they are not. Until then, I’m that person anyway, and I suspect if you are reading this, you are too.
Good luck over the next few weeks, but you don’t need it. You have resources and people available to you—use them!
Cynthia M. Lambert
609-924-7073, ext. 4
clambert [at] sclibnj.org