Today's worry is whether library staff damages the ability of our users to learn new technologies by trying too hard to reassure and comfort users who need assistance. This worry was prompted by a specific instance of copier help, but the language that concerned me is actually way more prevalent. The patron was having trouble getting the copier to make a copy because he had put three checks on the copying pane. They fit within an 8.5"x11" space, but the copier wouldn't copy because it couldn't identify the paper size. In my explanation, I described the copier as "picky." "Picky," and "particular" are two of the words most commonly used to describe the copier by library staff. We often also suggest some sort of mysterious technical failure as an explanation of patrons' problems, or at least accept it as a possibility (or pretend to) when the patron says something is "broken" or that the computer "lost" his print job. Favored words here are "glitch" and "error."
We may not have cutting-edge technology, but our computers, copiers, and networked printing system are basically functional. In 99.9% of cases, the problem is user error, not technical failture. I'm concerned that the way the staff talks about technology sends the following messages:
1. Technology is hard to use
2. Technology is unpredictable--sometimes you do everything right and it still doesn't work
Both of these things are only a little bit true, and they inhibit the confidence and understanding of our patrons. How can we talk about technology in a different way without coming off as harsh or critical to patrons?