Any librarians or social service worker readers have tips for working with library patrons who can't read? One of the two people I helped learn how to grow their own pot earlier today was the third patron in as many weeks who is substantially illiterate.
Googling "illiterate library patrons" gets you articles on the digital divide and digital illiteracy (My favorite article was this one on library 'cyber navigators': http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/librarys-cyber-navigators-help-digitally-illiterate-patrons-access-social) Googling "patrons who can't read" links you to some interesting text from old books. Searching the Library & Information Science Technology Abstracts database suggests that illiteracy was a way more popular topic in the professional literature 15 or 20 years ago than it is now. Plus, it's mostly pretty specialized--I'm not sure how "Bridging the gap between illiterate older adults and cognitive stimulation technologies through pervasive computing" is going to help me.
Dealing with illiterate patrons is a challenge for a lot of reasons, not just the reason that I am totally untrained and unprepared.
The first problem is that we immediately come up against the issue of what I am and am not supposed to do for people. Also, except when I'm doing a storytime, it's not my job to read to you. People don't ask me to read to them out of books (except people calling for phone numbers, but that we do...), but for some reason it's different with computers. My theory is that it's because we do help people with technology stuff. For instance, I'll show someone how to log on to the computer, how to open Internet Explorer, and how to do a Google search for the website they want to visit. It's no wonder that when they get to the website (which consists of paragraphs of text and a text-based navigation bar along the top) they look at me and say, "Okay, what do I do now?" How am I supposed to communicate to a patron that, if I could teach them to read the website as quickly as I showed them how to navigate to it, I would, but reading doesn't work like that?
Many public libraries offer reading instruction for adults who are illiterate, but ours doesn't. Even if it did, how is a year-long class going to help them when they need to get their form in to social services or they won't be able to pay their rent next week?
I will add this to the long list of things that library school failed to prepare me for, along with helping someone transfer his pornographic videos, dealing with abandoned children, and explaining that a computer doesn't know who you are.