People who argue that libraries have no role in an increasingly-digital society cannot possible have been in a library recently.
“I need your help”, a man said to me recently, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” The man had lost something with great sentimental value, and was hoping someone in the neighborhood might have found it. He wanted to make a poster, but didn’t have access to a computer at home. The man had never learned to type or to use a mouse and admitted to being intimidated by technology.
Here at the library the man was able to use a computer for free, print for a minimal fee, and get one-to-one assistance navigating the computer and formatting a document in a word processor. The man left the library with an armful of posters that will hopefully help him reconnect with his precious lost possession, as well as a bit more experience and confidence using a computer.
If there were no libraries, where could this patron have gotten the resources and support he needed, and from an organization that asked for nothing in return? The more dependent on technology societies become, the greater the risk becomes that vulnerable people will fall through the cracks and be denied access to this technology. We need computers to check our bank accounts, apply for social assistance, or find the address of a health clinic. Without access to a computer in the home, many people depend on the library as their digital lifeline, keeping them connected to the digital world.
But having access to a computer isn’t enough – one must know how to use the technology in order to unlock its power. It wasn’t enough for the library to provide this patron with access to a computer – he needed support and guidance from a skilled, experienced professional in order to use the computer to achieve his goal.
I know that everything I’m saying has been said before, and more eloquently, by far brighter minds than me. But my interaction with this patron just reinforced everything I believe so strongly in – that technology is a tool that is only valuable to individuals when it is freely accessible and accompanied by guidance and support.
And so endeth the lesson!