Sunday, November 11, 2007

Changing Approach to Computer Classes

Teaching computer classes at a small branch library can be quite a challenge. I know from daily interactions with our patrons, that the need is there; due to the demographics our neighborhood, many of our patrons are older and have little experience with the computer or the internet.

There are a few problems we face when it comes to giving instruction. In the first place, we have no meeting or computer room. This means that we have to give our lessons when we are closed, or else boot patrons off the computers when we're open.

Secondly, the computers are placed in such a way as to make the most of our outlet and phone line placement--that is, we have five computers clustered around a central point with dividers placed between the computers to give a bit of privacy. So when the lesson begins, not all of the students can see what is going on up front and I can't see what they are trying to do easily, either.

Third, when we do give a class, the students are at such varying levels of experience and knowledge, that it becomes difficult to keep the classes on target. When one student asks for some help in searching the web, another one asks me how to use the mouse.

Finally, I have a tendency to get sidetracked--I probably spend too much time showing the students cool features on Google, or explaining RSS feeds to students who are still learning how to control a mouse.

What I am doing now is dividing the subject matter up somewhat. I am still doing the basic computer classes, but I am offering tutorials to students who are having problems--or even if they have individual skills they would like to brush up on. And to keep myself from following interesting tangents in these basic classes, I am giving technology demonstrations once a week to anyone who will show up.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Libraries as Producers of Information

I was thinking this morning about ways that the library can reach out to the community and really become part of the information infrastructure—partnerships, packaging of local information, education, leveraging our organizational expertise—when, lo and behold, Michael Stephens provided a link in his blog this morning to the text of a speech given by Jon Udell at the Global Research Library summit in October.

In his speech, Jon talks about libraries remixing information and essentially becoming contributors and producers of information on the web. Jon also addresses the possibility of librarians lending their expertise to people who are trying to package and organize their own information on the web, and he gives a wonderful example of working with his local police force to organize and mine their local crime statistics—okay, he had to twist their arm a bit to get them to go along with it, but it looks like they were onboard at the end.

Anyway, much of what Jon had to say points to the need for libraries to be more assertive in bringing their resources to bear on local issues. We’ve been inviting people for years to come to our buildings, now we can bring our resources and talents to them. We should make ourselves necessary; it’s not enough to long for the public’s attention.