08 September 2008

Exploring New Technology: I love Chat Ref

School started last week. I forget how different campus becomes at the start of the school year. Perhaps it's also because it really was different this year. The library didn't just feel busy but actually WAS busy. Perhaps part of that was our new website and the influx of chat ref questions. Putting chat ref front and center was a bit of a contentious issue given our severe staffing constraints but frankly, I love it. I love the ability to address needs right away, with a few well chosen words. I love the little sound Pidgin makes when we get a message. It makes me feel loved. I love how the librarians are using chat ref to ask one another questions while one of us is at the desk. It just feels like it will work. Like it is working. Admittedly, we have some concerns about how it will compete for F2F questions once classes pick up but I also feel confident that we can manage it. That it's not nearly as difficult to manage as we might have thought.

And that gets me to an overarching theme that seems to be recurring in my course, my workplace, and my personal life. Technology is not as hard as we sometimes make it out to be. I think that those of us that are immersed in technology or teach it to others are often so deeply immersed in it that we don't hear ourselves talk. Or we want to show the uninitiated how incredible a tool technology can be that we cast our technologist shadows over the new user, hoping to bring them under our wing, when in reality we make them feel...well, cloudy. Shaded. In the dark.

It's hard for someone like me, who is genuinely excited by technology and genuinely loves sharing it with others, to step back and see it in the light that many of the people who approach me see it. But I can't stress enough how important I think that is while also striking a balance with people's nervousness about technology. So many faculty members I work with think that blogging or Facebook is not for them. In truth, once we've worked with it a bit, many of them come to admit that they just didn't know how to use it and therefore inferred its lack of utility. Isn't that quite the same as students and the databases? Students don't really know how to use these more complicated interfaces so they just assume it isn't useful? Creative approaches to solving that problem has many lessons that are applicable to a less academic setting as well.

All this from just loving Chat Ref....I better get out to the Ref Desk.

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