Six Tech Teaching Tips for Public Librarians
by Alphild Dick, Senior Editor
Before I joined the library world, I honestly didn’t spend much time thinking about technology. My father taught my brother and I how to use computers and type when we were in grade school. I have had a cell phone since I was a teenager in the 90s, and a laptop about as long. I’ve been downloading and streaming content since the early 00s. I carry a mobile device everywhere with me these days.
This says a lot about the privileges I have, but it is also why technology use is something that was relegated to the back of my mind. That is, until I started working in public libraries. Intellectually, it doesn’t take much effort to know that not everyone is tech savvy, tech fluent, tech privileged. It’s a challenge to draw upon your librarian skills and effectively help people who struggle with devices, software, websites, and more. It’s a task that sounds easy, but it takes some creativity to be effective.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several years thinking about how to provide really good technology instruction at work, as it is one of my main responsibilities. While I’m always learning new approaches, I’ve found I rely on a core set of skills.
1. Friendliness: One of the things that I first noticed when I began doing technology instruction was that it makes students REALLY nervous. A warm demeanor, and even a bit of informality, can reduce discomfort with stepping outside of their comfort zone.
2. Do not make assumptions: The best way to do this? Needs assessment! This can be a more structured process—a questionnaire, perhaps—but even a short bit of dialog at the beginning can help establish goals I always start off every instructional session, no matter how basic it may be on the face of it, with the question, “What can I help you learn how to do today?” New technology users may not be able to fully articulate what they want immediately, but with follow up questions and patience, you will both gain some clarity.
3. Hands off: And I am talking about you and the computer or device. Part of the problem that many people have not learned how to use technologies is that other people have been snatching the mouse or cell phone out of their hands for years and doing searches or downloading apps for them. It is our responsibility to empower them. Bonus: making your tech session a hands-free zone for you really motivates you to think about how you explain things.
4. Make technology relevant: When helping people learn how to navigate Microsoft Office or a web browser or a smartphone, make sure to find out what else they are interested in. Are they photography buffs? Showing them how to use a photo app will help them feel more invested in learning it and more likely they will continue using the technology. This goes for pretty much any interest, hobby, or passion. Technology is flexible!
5. Stick with them: Sometimes it can be easy to feel like you can’t help someone. More than once, I have been tempted to direct someone to another staff member when the student’s needs are beyond my immediate skill set. Remember, though, we are asking them to stretch beyond their comfort level. We need to step outside of our comfort zone, too.
6. Learn by doing: The best way to master tech training skills—and by master, I really mean become proficient enough to adapt to changing needs—is to practice. When I first started, I practically spent hours showing everyone in my family how to download eBooks on their devices. It may have driven a few of them a little bit crazy, but it helped me really learn how to explain things. (And really, they all got free eBooks, too. Win-win!)
Got a great tip for making technology instruction easier? Share below!