My Community Informatics course is shaping up to be very service-learning oriented. Each student is expected to volunteer at a local library or information center 2 hours a week. Specifically, we act as “cybernavigators,” which is basically a shorter word for computer/tech helpers. It was coined by a community informatics program at the Chicago Public Libraries wherein the cybernavigators are the designated computer lab helpers that help patrons navigate computers, technology, and the internet.
I’m doing my cybernavigating at the Urbana Free Library in their general use computer lab. So far it has been interesting and challenging in many different ways. First off, I haven’t actually ever worked in a public library. Craziness! While I’ve had lots of work experience in archives & academic libraries, I had never been anything other than a patron at the many public libraries I frequent.
Second, it’s been an interesting challenge to adapt my reference skills to a computer help desk in a public library setting. My current job at an academic library reference desk sometimes involves helping people with the internet, computers, scanners, printers, etc. But the average level of computer literacy is generally higher at an academic institution. Thus, I’ve noticed that I have had to adjust my reference interview tactics at Urbana Free to fit more closely with anticipated user needs. For instance, this past week I had multiple patrons who needed help navigating to their email accounts from the library homepage. It is an awakening moment when you realize that not everyone is at your level of computer literacy, or, for that matter, even close.
Third, the atmosphere and culture is very different. The default noise level is a lot louder than an academic library; the spectrum of patrons is more diverse; and the spectrum of information needs is wider (not such a narrow academic/social focus). It is refreshing, but it definitely keeps me on my toes. Nothing like learning a new system/library/patron base to keep things interesting!
While I was initially concerned about the outside-of-class time commitments that this course requires, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my cybernavigating experiences so far. We have to keep a log/journal of our experiences throughout the semester, so I’ll have to do another post with an update in December with my final thoughts…