the techie mission and the library mission

I don’t consider myself a techie, much less a geek or a nerd, by these definitions or any others. That’s not meant to denigrate any of the terms–I simply don’t feel skilled enough to claim any of the titles. I’m still at the “take the server out of the box” phase.

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology and libraries, though. I’ve been teaching a Digital Photography 101 class at the library (you can see the Web version of the insanely long handout). People bring their cameras, and we practice taking some pictures, and then we load their pictures onto the computer using the handy card reader that the library bought at my urging. Then we play with them a little in Picasa, and then I show them a couple of online photo sites, usually Flickr and Kodak Gallery. Then they ask questions, and sometimes I can answer them, and sometimes I have to say, “Let me look into that and I’ll get back to you.”

I often think of myself as in some weird trough between technical know-how and technical incompetence. I can talk about blogs and wikis, and I did all the html for my website by hand. But then there are days (which I like to blame on my being more familiar with Macs than PCs) when I have IM conversations like this one:

me: stupid question. . .
friend: yes?
me: what do you use to unzip files in Windows?
friend: WinZip
me: duh. . .

I am as excited as everyone else by ventures like EngagedPatrons.org and Pay IT Forward, but sometimes I think the techie help that our libraries need is at an even more basic level. Not just, “What do I do once I’ve taken the server out of the box?” but some of the questions people ask me that I can’t always answer. What are the security risks posed by letting patrons use various peripheral devices on the computers? Can we let them plug in their digital cameras? Burn CDs? I know we can let patrons do these things, because I know there are libraries that do, but I don’t know how to explain why it’s safe, or how to make it safe.

I’m trying to learn, though. Many of the reference questions I get in the small rural library where I work are technology related. As a librarian, it’s my mission to answer those questions as best I can. In more and more cases, answering those questions means learning more about technology. And that makes me grateful to my techie friends: the people out there, some of them librarians, some not, who know that part of their mission is helping to make technology work for people, not the other way around.

If I thought that the whole of the techie mission was getting everyone to develop technolust, I’d probably have a problem with it. But I haven’t seen that. Instead, I’ve seen techies working their tails off to make libraries and library services work better. Whether they’re hacking around the OPAC to make more functional or teaching people to use e-mail or contributing to online conferences or the Library Success Wiki or the Library Instruction Wiki or projects like Pay IT Forward or answering my stupid IM questions, they’re all furthering the library mission of helping people find, use, and enjoy information. I think that’s a good thing.

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