So, I’m trying to write a strategic plan for the libraries.  (Real life and daily work seem to be interfering, but I’m going to get it done.)  And today is one of those days when I have two options: Pull my hair out, or turn this experience into fodder for the strategic plan.

My vote, as of right now? We need an info commons that integrates tech support, STAT.  Students need Blackboard assistance.  They need access to all campus software.  They need more hardware.  They need tech help.  And I’m all they’ve got, here at the Reference Desk in the library.

So far, in my hour and nine minutes on the ref desk, I have:

  • Had Meebo bomb out on me repeatedly.  Sorry remote users, no help for you today.
  • Got a report that one of our iMacs is failing to log in, and was unable to resolve the issue myself. I directed the student to check out a laptop, and apologized that they’re not MacBooks, since he was hoping for MacOS.
  • Helped a student troubleshoot “I can’t open this attachment”, which was because it’s a .pages file, which MSOffice cannot, apparently, open.
  • Tried to help a student with a Blackboard quiz; failed due to lack of depth of understanding of the nuances of Blackboard.
  • Showed a student how to get back to the dual-boot login screen on the iMacs. (FYI; he wanted Mac OS.)
  • Helped a student find her professor’s contact information in Blackboard and the campus directory.
  • Showed a professor the new location of the videos (we did it over winter break).
  • Tried to help a student open her lab project; failed.  We do not appear to have that software on the campus lab image.

None of those questions were about the research process or the intellectual work of using the library’s resources or services.  All of them were about using our facilities or our campus technology infrastructure or services.  All of which I can handle, to a certain extent, but none of which is my area of expertise.  Librarians are often jacks-of-all-trades, but that doesn’t mean we automatically have the right training or resources to be everything to everyone, in an environment where “everything” means, more and more, “technology assistance.”  We’re doing our best, and it’s holding back the flood, but we could do better. We want to do better.  We try to do better.  The students deserve better.

So I’m going to go with “fodder for the strategic plan” rather than “pull my hair out”.  I do like a challenge.


  1. What needs to happen is campus support for student computing problems, period. We’ve been disgustingly derelict at this since shutting down ResNet many years ago. Everyone claims it’s not their problem, and because we have ineffective leadership at the top (above you), no one has the spine to say “thou shalt support your students, duh”.


  2. Let’s see what I can do to restart that discussion, then. Because, OMG, we’re trying, but we are NOT equipped for this, not consistently, not thoroughly, and not with the grace and confidence we’d like to display… but we could be the place we start again. I’m willing to try to be the springboard.


  3. I feel your pain. I answer a ton of the exact same sorts of questions every time I’m at the reference desk and sometimes it does feel like “holding back the flood” where the flood is technological complexity overwhelming our students. It’s part our students’ education that tends to get swept under the rug so it’d be an interesting problem space for libraries to get involved in.


  4. @Jenica: Maybe you can work with IT for them to place a student worker (or staff member) in the library during certain hours and esp. during the beginning of the semester. You may need to give up a bit of space for them, but it might be worth it. At one place were I used to work the library actually gave the IT department one of three computers on the circulation desk. Since more people came into the library then where the previous IT help desk was, it turned out to be a win-win for everyone.


  5. Kind of like the frustrations we’ve been having with getting audio ereserves and audio subscription tools to work properly on campus wireless and/or on Macs (i.e., not on a library computer)–there are so many variables that can be the problem and Library IT is throwing up their hands and campus IT is clueless, so we the librarians are left to either figure it out or say “sorry, I have no idea”–which looks really bad and is frustrating to all involved. (but if you access this stuff _off_ campus there are usually few problems). Doh.


  6. Sorry–realize that my comment doesn’t really help further your discussion, but this came up today in a big way and I needed to vent. 🙂


  7. If you need help getting this going, my colleague in IT and I are happy to share several year’s worth of experience (and training outlines) keeping such a thing going. We’ve had such a service for 6-ish years now, and Kevin and I have been coordinating it for the past 3 years.

    By the end of the year, we also plan to have a long-ish report written as part of our over-all evaluation of the service point and surrounding spaces.


  8. IMHO, nobody else is going to take responsibility for these problems; we librarians have to step up. My current wish list:

    1) Have the tools and supplies to take apart a PC and — at the very least — be able to install more memory without having to call IT.
    2) (opening a can of worms) Know the administrative logins to the machines in the reference area.
    3) Training in at least these college systems: online course management, registration, student records.

    That’s all for now, but there’s plenty more. Lemme drink my coffee.


  9. This is all very reminiscent to the situation at our library too. Our computers across campus have no consistency when it comes to desktop appearance, software capabilities, or even printing capabilities (some print both sides, some apparently don’t..I still don’t quite understand why) etc. I see students “techno stressed” all the time, and us unable to help them. We’ve been unable to work things out with our IT department to improve the situation. I’m not sure I need to put the blame anywhere other than they don’t see things our way, we don’t see things their way and no compromise is ever achieved. They are short staffed and overworked just like us. I really like the idea of have an IT student worker in our library to help. It wouldn’t hurt to suggest it, however, I fear the response will be that they simply can’t spare the worker because they need them in their office.

    Like Onell suggested, I think it’s time that IT departments allow at least one librarian on staff to have admin access to computers so we can solve some of the simple stuff. It would save time for IT staff so they can focus on the bigger problems. More training would also help…as it is, we’re learning as we go or asking our own library student workers to show us how they register.

    These are all great suggestions, but in reality, at least in our situation, there’s a delicate power play involved. I think IT is too afraid to give up control, and we haven’t been able to convince them that, really, it’s ok..if we work together more we could make this better.


  10. Again I am reminded to thank Matt and Steve and Jeff and Lori and Andy and Karen and Rom (and all the rest) for being such good colleagues. Our relationship with IT, on a whole, is fantastic. We each have our moments, of course, but they’ve been great partners to us. Matt spoke with me at the SUNYLA we hosted at Potsdam about server management in libraries, and the conversation turned into a “but my IT will never let me…” and neither Matt nor I could find a good reason for that to be true, though it clearly was.

    Which is why all of this makes me rub my hands together and start dreaming and planning rather than throwing them in the air and giving up. It’s amazing what a little good faith can do for you…


  11. “Which is why all of this makes me rub my hands together and start dreaming and planning rather than throwing them in the air and giving up. It’s amazing what a little good faith can do for you..”

    This is why you rock as a mentor. 🙂


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