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A hard decision

November 15, 2007

I have an embarrassing problem: I can be wishy-washy. I think I’m a halfway decent manager of a medium-sized branch library, but lately there is a situation that I just can’t seem to make a decision about. Do we provide basic computer instruction?

This summer I began offering computer classes here at Grabill because the need is still there. People still don’t know how to use computers and they need help. They come into the library to get that help. This is an issue that has been coming up a lot lately. Lisa U. describes the situation much more eloquently than I could; and Kay G. blogged yesterday about how she deals with patrons who want to know “how to use a computer”.

I stopped offering basic Internet instruction classes because they didn’t seem to be going well. People of varying levels of skill trying to learn all in the same class provided a challenge. I learned that many adults have a hard time in a “class” setting; some people monopolize with questions, some want to jump ahead and not stay on task, some don’t get it at all and never ask questions. Some people can’t see very well and don’t see the links on the page. Hand-eye coordination is very difficult for people who’ve never had to use it before. Sometimes people can’t hear, and they have to ask questions over and over.

So I thought maybe it would be better to do individual instruction. But once we started that, it became a different problem. One of my staff members sat down with a person for an hour last week to show the patron how to use the Internet. The patron called yesterday and wants the same staff member (not just anyone) to show her how to use e-mail. That’s great to have a favorite librarian, but when I offered the e-mail class to her (we still do that one because it requires experience using a computer), she refused. She wants individual, one-on-one tutoring.

At Grabill, we have 5.0 FTE. We are a medium-sized branch library and we have fewer FTE than any other medium-sized branch. Our circulation continues to increase; we are getting busier all the time. There are certains periods of the day when we only have two staff members here.

So my big decision is: do we provide one-on-one tutoring about how to use a computer? My heart, the heart of a librarian, the “reason that I come in to work every day” says I need to get these people the help that they need. But as a manager, responsible for utilizing human resources as well as material resources, I have to say no. We don’t have time to tutor people. Working with people on remedial computer instruction, for an hour at a time, one-on-one, is tutoring.

What is the solution? I don’t know. I think I’m good at running my branch, but I have never been good about coming up with solutions to huge problems, planning huge things, etc. And it seems like this problem is huge and is going to require something big to fix it, something bigger than I can imagine right now.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ian permalink
    November 15, 2007 3:28 pm

    Maybe you could consider using volunteers to offer computer instruction. I’m sure there are lots of issues with that potential solution, too … but it might be worth thinking about.

  2. Melissa permalink
    November 15, 2007 3:43 pm


    We did have a wonderful volunteer who taught classes for about a year. She was promoted to a position that didn’t allow her much free time, so she had to stop.

    So far we haven’t had any more takers. Our volunteer coordinator has let the appropriate people know that the need exists, but so far we have had no one really step up.

    I agree the perfect volunteer can do a great job. If we can just find him/her!

  3. Jen permalink
    November 15, 2007 9:51 pm

    This seems like a collaborative grant waiting to happen!

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