Someone once told me that if I planned on becoming a librarian I should brush up on my trouble shooting skills for the copier and printer. Really, the most often questions I get at the reference desk are technical. From my perspective as a college reference librarian, students who are proficient with their handhelds  still need to help with basic computer skills.  Thank goodness, because somedays they are the only questions I get at the desk! I found that the basic how to computer questions end up becoming the start of an excellent relationship.

Building Trust 

Countless times, I have had students linger in the reference desk waiting for the all clear to whisper (no one whispers in my library) “Can you show me how to print my paper?”.  I have found that getting up and walking to their desk is the best way to help because it communicates that I am going to work with them to fix the problem. Even if it is just to show them where the print tab is.    In a typical reference transaction, my training would have suggested that I turn my computer to show the patron how to print a paper from my screen.  But technical questions are better handled working at the computer with the student.   I also think that my eliminating the reference desk eliminates any of the “power” implication between a student and  me.

Building Respect 

So many students have difficulty finding the print button or cut and pasting an article because their high school or home computer has a different or older Microsoft program.  I always commiserate with their feeling of frustration. To be honest, every time I am working with a new word processing program it takes me an embarrassingly long time to  adapt.  I think that students are embarrassed to ask an older librarian for help.  One student told me that he was part of the digital generation but could not figure out how to switch the paper to landscape and spent 45 mins before coming to the desk.  This is the moment for to assure students that there is no such thing as a dumb question. Whether it is how to print or how to find a book on the shelf, I try to reassure the student to come to the desk.  I have found that those students who I have helped in this manner are much more likely to come back to the desk with more traditional reference questions.

Wanting to make this a more  teachable moment

I cannot help but want to turn this into a more teachable interaction. I want to teach my students to fish as the saying goes. For more complicated questions, I try to show them how to use the Mircosoft Office book that we have on reserve.  I have also googled “Word short-cuts” to supply the students with a handy reference guide to quick short-cuts and trouble shooting. But I feel that I should have better resources at the tips of my fingers.   I want to teach them to find the answer to their questions  so that at 2am the morning before the paper is due, they don’t panic. Does anyone have any suggestions for websites or other resources that I can show or share with my students?   And Are they any other ways to capitalize on these transactions that will make students more willing to talk to a librarian in the future?

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