Saturday, March 17, 2007

Info Literacy Access Gap

Today, at work there was an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair.
He wondered if he could use a computer station to look up books and print out pages. We told him yes--did he have a library card?

He did, but it was way too old for use.

He could have used our "Catalog Only" stations, but they're on high desks. There was no way to lower them to his wheelchair.

So we make him up a new card and give him his pin number. He wheels slowly over to the one ADA accessible computer station in our branch and has no idea of what to do. He can barely type and has no knowledge of tabbing or hitting "enter"...not to mention using the mouse.

I try to go slowly. But basically all I seem to be showing him is how complicated the system has become for him.

He wanted books about some mid-20th century event and we found him some. One of my colleagues helped by pulling a bunch of books. But the whole event made me realize how inadequate our self-service system is for someone in a wheelchair, first of all: in addition to there being only one convenient ADA accessible station, for him to have to print, he'd need to wheel over to the Print Release station, get assistance--because that station is not low enough for wheelchairs, and then have to put money in the station.

Then for someone who is not experienced with PCs, this is perhaps both frustrating and maybe shaming. The gentleman, who was born in the early part of the last century had all his mental facilities intact. His interest in history was keen. He wanted to use the computer catalog--but as I was showing him, I became so aware of the huge gap in ability.

I realize the generation that doesn't know from PCs is fading, but technology is so speedy, there will always be something to challenge our ability to use it to get information. It is my hope that public libraries will always stay aware of this, that we will try to stay on top of it.

One of these days, I may be wheeling myself into a public library, looking for something good to read, or wanting to research early 21st century history. What if the mouseless, keyboard-less catalog station of the future can't track my eye movements, because my eyes are too old and slow?

Something to think about as Americans live and stay active, thinking and working longer.