One of the most frustrating and sad things we encounter at the library are people we can't help, who don't understand why we can't help them -- and who blame us. These are generally people with minimal or no digital literacy (i.e. tech skills).
Here's a typical scenario. A customer cannot access their email account because they have forgotten their password. It's likely they changed the password at some point but don't remember doing that, so they're using the old password, or that they're typing it in wrong. They claim they know their password, but it's not working. The password reset function requires a verification text sent to the phone number on file -- but that phone no longer exists.
There are several ways this plays out.
The customer blames the library computers, claiming that this never happened when they used the computers at [place where they used public computers in the past].
The customer blames library staff for being unwilling to help them.
The customer blames library staff for not having basic computer skills.
The customer insists that library staff is able to retrieve their password but refuses to do so.
And any combination of the above.
Typically the customer is very frustrated and upset. If they happen to speak to library staff who are less adept at handling difficult situations, it can get really ugly.
It helps if there is more than one staff member present. People tend to respond more positively to the second person who confirms what the first person has said -- the old "I'll check with my supervisor" technique.
Explanations must be very clear and concise. But a person who is in a stressed and anxious state often cannot absorb even the clearest information.
And no matter how skilled the library staff, and how perfect their explanation, the result is the same: we can't retrieve their password.
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We live in a world where basics skills with a device, be it a phone or computer, are needed for daily life. But where and how do you acquire those skills, if you're not in school, don't own a device, and don't work at a job where computer use is the norm? For people who are experiencing homelessness or other social dislocation, it can be a nightmare.
I hope you have all seen the film "I, Daniel Blake". (If you have not, you must!) There's a scene where Daniel uses a computer in a busy public library. He has never used a computer. He doesn't know how to use the mouse, or how to type something into a search engine.
Daniel is an intelligent and knowledgeable person, but in this situation, he is almost helpless. And Daniel needs the computer in order to access benefits, in a system purposely designed to weed out as many people as possible. (Good piece on "I, Daniel Blake" and literacy here.)
And we also live in a world where countless daily interactions are dependent on giant, faceless mega-corporations. Interactions with the corporations that hold and control our data moves only in one direction. The customer asks, Can't you call Hotmail and get my password from them?
Perhaps to us, that's a ridiculous question. Who uses Hotmail anymore? And call Hotmail? But it's actually a perfectly reasonable question. It's the answer that's unreasonable.