LIBR 200 Blog Post #8 – Reflections

When I began my research into my chosen information community, senior citizens learning computer literacy (though I probably created 20 different names for the community because they all sounded awkward to me); I had a decent idea of what I would find. I knew it was not a conventional community, at least in the terms that the class lectures would use to define an “information community,” but I felt that I would be able suitably define the community and determine how it was being served.

I was sort of surprised to be able to complete my research so early. I had more than enough material to produce my research back in mid-October. So many people had written on the information needs of seniors, the importance of teaching them computer literacy and how they use computers that I couldn’t use all the materials I could find. I think there was one article that I used in the Literature Review assignment and did not use in the Research Paper. How many people can say that? I would be willing to bet it is a very small number.

As someone who has taught seniors and other adults computer literacy for some time; I was surprised that there was so much I thought I knew, but I realize now that I did not know a lot of it at all. And as the coordinator of the computer classes at my library, I realized that I could use this new knowledge to help improve those classes.

The key area where I realized that I could make a change was in the area of class content. All of the material I read that touched on the information needs of seniors noted that their information seeking was more focused on specific things. So I proposed to my team of instructors ways to make our classes more focused, arguing that “less is more” which means in this case “less content means more understanding.” Instead of trying to get as much as we can into our limited schedule, focus on the most important things and stay away from overwhelming them. For example, the first class we offer on using Microsoft Word used to cover typing and editing a Word document, highlighting text, altering the font, changing the alignment, spell checking and printing. When we resume classes in January, that class (which was 2 hours long) will be split into two-90 minute sessions, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday. Typing, editing, highlighting and spell check will make up the first class. Changing the font, printing and alignment will make up the second class period.

It should be noted that staffing considerations played a role in this revision process, but the most important consideration was keeping the class as simple as possible. Ultimately, we will accomplish that goal; though some tweaks may have to be made along the way.

And that leads to the most important thing I will take from this class and this semester: a good information professional takes the time to listen to the needs of the community she/he serves. You have to cater to the information needs and information seeking behaviors of the people you serve. Of course, in a library, you are serving a vast community with multiple needs. But you still have to pay attention to what they want and respond with the information they demand. If you fail at that, you are failing at being an information professional.

LIBR 200 Blog Post #7- Emerging Technologies and Seniors Don’t Always Mix

For a senior citizen who is just starting to learn about computers, the idea of using emerging technologies such as 3-D printing is an extremely foreign concept. As it is, only 27% of older adults use social networking services like Facebook. Smartphones, tablets and e-readers have lower adoption rates among seniors at 18% each (Pew Research, 2014). It is such an unimportant topic that in a search of databases for library and information science, there are zero results for “older adults AND emerging technologies.” To the best of my ability, I can not find any articles written on the topic.

In my October interview with Audrey (background information can be found here), I asked her about some of the topics covered in this week’s lecture. She told me that she does use an Amazon Kindle that her children gave her as a gift. She said “I like it. It’s easy for me to read on it. But I think I would rather have a regular book in my hands” (personal communication, October 7, 2014). But she does not own a smartphone or tablet and only carries a simple cellular phone.

On the topic of social networking, she said that she is not interested in that. “I don’t have the need to have a Facebook or use Twitter or any of that. I don’t want it” (Audrey, personal communication, October 7, 2014).

This should not be a surprise. For some older adults, computers in general could be considered an “emerging technology.” When you’re still developing an understanding of computers, things like “Web 2.0″ and mobile apps are just a bridge too far at that point.

Resources

Pew Research Center (2014). Older adults and technology use. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org

 

LIBR 200 Book Review: The Information Diet

Johnson, C.A. (2012). The information diet: A case for conscious consumption. United States: O’Reilly Media.

Clay A. Johnson’s book The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption determines that society does not suffer from “information overload” but instead suffers from “information obesity.” Johnson compares our eating habits and our inability to avoid junk foods to our information seeking habits and our inability to avoid junk information. Johnson advocates for developing better mental tools to filter out information that has clear biases and help keep the individual mind sharp and focused.

One particular area of concern for Johnson is the area of the media, specifically cable news and the Internet “content farms.” Johnson cites a Pew Research study that said that Fox News spent over 70% of its budget on programming (including salaries for their hosts) and the rest on administrative costs (such as newsrooms). MSNBC has spent as much as 88% of their budget on programming, while CNN is below 50% in that category. The end result: Fox News; watched by mostly conservative viewers, has the highest ratings of any of the three cable news networks. MSNBC, watched by mainly liberal viewers; is a clear second place and CNN is third, despite their reputation for reporting and impartiality (p. 31-32). This touches on one of Johnson’s other concerns, in that most people seek information that affirms their beliefs instead of challenges them.  Meanwhile, the content farms churn out articles intended to draw page views. The writers who work for these sites are expected to create content on an almost hourly basis in an effort to get people to click on the website more often; leading to more money for the site and ostensibly, for the writer (p. 35-37).

As someone who tries to consume information in a way that avoids overt biases (I have said for some time that if Fox News says one thing and MSNBC says another thing, the truth is somewhere in between), I agree with the general belief that we suffer not from too much information but from too much misleading information. It is why protestors come up with signs like “Keep the Government out of my Medicare,” which is ridiculous since Medicare is a government program. It is also a sign that prompted Johnson to write the book.

keep-your-government-hands-off-my-medicare1

However, I feel the author hurt his own credibility by providing too much unnecessary information to prove his points. The book is 150 pages long and I feel that he could have reduced it by about 25% if he had avoided the overuse of lengthy examples to validate his opinions. Some of his personal examples were completely unnecessary for what he was writing. For a writer who is advocating the reduction of information obesity, he has produced a book that is slightly obese.

LIBR 200 Blog Post #6 – Library Stereotypes

For many senior citizens whom make up my information community, libraries have been a source of information for most of their lives. For some, the library is something to appreciate and respect. For others, it can be an occasional source of frustration as technology and collections change. For this posting, I combined information gleaned from my interview with Audrey (see Blog Post #4 for information) as well as interactions with other senior citizens over the course of this semester to help form the captions for these images.

Searching in the Library

In the interview with Audrey, she mentioned that she found searching for items via an online library catalog to be difficult. She found it hard to sort out stuff she did not want. I have had other older adults make comments to me that they missed the old card catalogs of the past. That prompted this image.

The Modern Librarian

The lady in the picture above is also a fair representation of what many think of when they think of a librarian: a older lady with glasses. Male librarians were a rare species, as this Unshelved comic strip points out.

Of course, the modern librarian is not necessarily going to be an older lady. They’re young and old. They’re female and male. They could have tattoos and piercings. The stereotype is not real.

Of course, some stereotypes do stand the test of time.

Teaching Computers

One part of the interview with Audrey that did not make blog post was her comment that some of the computer classes “get repetitive. It’s all ‘click here, then here, then here.’ It gets boring” (Audrey, personal communication, October 7, 2014). That prompted this image:

Library Operations

I saw Audrey this week at the library and told her about having to create these memes when she asked me how my classes were going. After explaining to her what a “meme” is, she specifically requested the comments made in the next two images.

The first image is from the library I work at, though it is not a picture I took. She wanted to make a comment about one of her pet peeves about the building: how noise travels in it.

The second request had to do with what she called the “constant need to move things around. It seems like something is moved in here every week!” (Audrey, personal communication, November 6, 2014). I sympathized with her opinion and came up with this.

 

LIBR 200 Blog Post #5 – Ethics in Computer Literacy Training

As the lectures of the past two weeks have shown, there are plenty of legal and ethical issues in librarianship. We are constantly walking a fine line between respecting the privacy rights of the library users and the demands of legal authorities. We strive to provide information of all kinds to our users, but there will always be groups out there who want to control what information we provide.

For those of us who teach computer literacy; like myself, the ethical and legal issues are slightly different. We should still be held to the same ethical standards as any other librarian, but are we not following those standards when we explain email to the new computer users by using Gmail instead of Yahoo or Outlook? Are we wrong to teach these people word processing by using Microsoft Word instead of Google’s version or another alternative? Is it wrong that we use Windows computers and ignore Apple’s Macintosh computers completely? These are the questions I found myself asking as I read through the material and prepared for this post.

In my attempts to perform supplementary research for this topic, I was not able to find any content that touched on ethical dilemmas in computer literacy teaching in a sufficient manner. Therefore, much of the the content of this blog post will come from my own reactions to the lectures and how I relate those to my own experiences from teaching computer literacy classes over the past few years.

Professor Hansen wrote “ethical dilemmas occur when different values (professional and personal) come into conflict” (2014, p. 4). I wonder how that applies to my teaching. For as long as I have been teaching computer classes, we have limited ourselves to using programs that are the most popular for their respective uses. For teaching word processing, we have always used Microsoft Word. But should we not also be teaching Google Docs or OpenOffice’s word processing program. As it is, we do not even mention those programs. Is that ethically improper because you could argue that we are withholding information from our students. The two alternatives are both free programs while Word costs money to buy. The same could apply to any Microsoft Office program a computer class program chooses to teach over the alternate options out there.

Another category where it could be argued whether there is an ethical conflict in play is teaching students the use of email. When I began teaching computer literacy courses eight years ago, we taught our students how to use Yahoo email. After a couple of years, it was decided that we would change to Google’s Gmail service for that class. The reason for that change was primarily because many of the people who were involved in teaching the classes used Gmail and preferred it to Yahoo. So we used personal opinions to change how we present information for our classes. Is that a violation of ethics to prefer using one product over its competitors?

There are some things we do not touch on and have never touched on in our teaching. For example, we do not explain how to copy music CDs on to a person’s computer, which would be a violation of copyright if they were copying CDs checked out from the library. Much like the experiments performed by Hauptman and Dowd; where they asked questions that touched on explicitly illegal subjects (bomb making and cocaine, respectively) (Hansen, 2014), a person could ask me for information on how to do that and I would at least show them books on that topic. But to teach that in a class could be construed as teaching people to violate copyright, which would probably never be permitted.

The point of all of this, I believe, is that in this area; there is no such thing as black-and-white. Everything is fairly gray. There is no clear answer. There is no reliable metric saying that Microsoft Word is the most popular word processor that I can find. A study from 2013 argues that Gmail may be the most popular email service, but their reasoning can be questioned (Ryan Solutions, 2013).

One article I came across that presented some interesting arguments on ethics in computer literacy training was by Gilbert (2000). He calls the Internet a “vast ethical wasteland” (p. 478) and believes that to teach people about using the Internet without discussing how to avoid the negative aspects; such as pornography or explicitly illegal material, is an ethical failure. He also cites how some who teach computer literacy tend to understate how dangerous computer viruses can actually be for computer users.

Speaking from personal experience, whenever I have taught classes on using the Internet or email; I have made sure to state three important points:

  1. That .com or .gov at the end of an email address is very important. Ask anyone who used to stumble upon whitehouse.com when they were looking for whitehouse.gov (Pelline, 1997).
  2. Always sign out of anything you had to “sign in” to. Bank websites, email, the library website, anything.
  3. Do not open any email or visit any website that seems suspicious. If you get an email that claims to be from a bank, call the bank to confirm if the email is legitimate.

Can I do more in that regard? Certainly. To me, explaining the dangers of using the Internet is not an ethical dilemma.  It just makes sense and any opportunity to go further there should be taken.

Ethical issues exist all over libraries. As information providers, we are trusted to present information in a fair and impartial manner. In teaching computer literacy, we run into possible ethical dilemmas whenever we choose to teach one program over another because that can be construed as endorsing that program over its competitors. The reality is that there are very few clear answers as to what is ethically right or wrong. The best thing I can do as an information provider and computer literacy instructor is present the best information I can to help my students become better, smarter computer users.

References

Gilbert, B. (2000). Teaching information literacy and computing ethics: Are they the same thing?  The International Information and Library Review, 32. 473-483. doi:10.1006/iilr.2000.0139

Hansen, D. (2014). Module 8, lecture 1: Ethical issues and the information seeker.

Pelline, J. (1997). Whitehouse.com goes to porn. C-NetRetrieved from http://news.cnet.com/2100-1023-202985.html

Ryan Solutions. (2013, October 8). Q: What are the most common email providers and domains resorts are sending to? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.ryansolutions.com/blog/2013/email-domains/

LIBR 200: Blog Post #4 – Seniors and Public Libraries

In a study into older adults and their information seeking behaviors, Don Wicks (2004) cited one participant in the study who complained about her local public library’s lack of usefulness. One complained about not being able to find enough resources for her research and not receiving adequate help with searching. Yet another participant complimented his library for having resources his academic library did not. Is the library experience for the female who could not find the right information for her needs more common for seniors? Or is it more common to find the resources they need like the second participant? I conducted an interview with a senior citizen who I met through her attendance at the computer classes I teach at my library to find out.

My interview subject’s name is Audrey. She’s in her mid-60’s and is originally from the Midwestern United States. She is the mother of three and grandmother of two. She moved to Arizona with her husband in 2007 after he retired. He passed away two years ago after an illness.

All quotes were taken from an interview I conducted with Audrey on October 7, 2014.

Why Does a Senior Use a Library?

Audrey has used libraries all of her life. “My mother was a librarian while I was in elementary school,” she says. “We lived in a small town and the school was next to the library. I would go to the library every day after school to read and wait for her.” After her father started a new job in Chicago, her family moved there and her library use habits changed. According to Audrey; “Mother did not have to work because my father was doing so well. We would still visit the library once a week, but it wasn’t the same as back home.” She continued that habit when she became a parent herself, taking her children to the library “twice a week, usually more often” according to Audrey, adding “I loved the library, even in Chicago. I wanted to help my children love the library, too.”

As an older adult; Audrey continued to use the library for books. Says Audrey “When James (her husband) and I moved here to Phoenix, I made sure to know where the libraries were. I would have been homesick and miserable without that.” When I asked what she would generally look for in the library, Audrey replied “Most of the books I look for now are romance or historical fiction. Occasionally, I will look for a health book or something on a government program. Books on Medicare, Social Security… oh, and books on sewing. That is a hobby I’m learning now.”

As I mentioned earlier, I met Audrey though the computer classes I teach. What made her start taking those classes? “James handled all of the computer stuff. He understood all of that better than I did. He tried to teach me but… it was a mess,” she said while laughing. Audrey explained that her husband handled all of the email correspondence with their children:

James made sure I saw all of the pictures of the grandchildren, but he handled all of the writing. When he passed away, I really did not know what to do. It was a neighbor who suggested that I try these classes. I thought she was crazy to suggest that after James couldn’t teach me. But I decided it was worth a try.

How Does a Senior View a Library?

To Audrey, it goes without saying that libraries have changed. “There is so much more going on in this building than in any library I visited when I was your age,” she said to me. “Look at the wall by the entrance to the building. How many events are being promoted on those posters? And are they all happening here, in this building?” When I confirmed that they were all events that would happen in that library, she shook her head in disbelief.

Audrey said that she still uses the library primarily for checking out books. “I come here for the [computer] classes, of course,” she said. “But I don’t use the computers here because I have a computer at home. I have borrowed a couple of DVDs from here, as well. Just a couple of old movies and TV shows.”

When I asked “what is your opinion of the experience you have in using the library,” she hesitated before responding “It’s not perfect. The people here are generally great. The classes are wonderful and I’ve learned so much from them. Some don’t seem to want to talk to anyone, though. I go to one of the information desks and most will smile and say ‘hello’ and then there’s a couple where the computer monitor is in front of them like it’s a wall for me or others to get over.” She did add that when she needs help with something, “the librarians here do a great job of finding what I want. I can’t remember a time that I had a problem with anyone helping me.”

She continued on to note that searching a library catalog was not as easy as it could be. When I asked her to go into more detail there, Audrey replied “The library website is hard to look at and the catalog is difficult. I have trouble finding the books I want and sorting the list when I search for books. I have no interest in audio books, but I can’t keep them from appearing in the search.” She also described her attempts at checking out and downloading e-books from the library for the Amazon Kindle her children gave her as ” frustrating. I have to ask for help every time.” She then laughed and said “here I am using all of this technology stuff when I had no clue about these things 2 years ago. I say these things and acting like I’m an expert! I’m anything but an expert!”

Using Other Information Sources

With that said, Audrey views the library as a much more reliable resource for information than the Internet. According to her “I feel comfortable trusting what a book says over what a website tells me. There’s certain websites I can trust, but not always.” She points out that being able to communicate with fellow older adults has been a positive experience for her. “I did find a community online for seniors that has been a great help for me. Being able to talk to others who are going through the same things as me is one of the better things about the Internet. And that’s forgetting that I can use the Internet for talking to my children and grandchildren. I was able to use the Internet to plan my summer trip to Minnesota for the family reunion which thrilled me.”

I asked her to expand on the positives of experiencing that community. For Audrey, it was just about being able to not feel lonely.

“With my family so far away and very busy with their own families and careers, being able to talk to people I can relate to is nice. We share stories about our families, help each other through the loneliness and… I’ve learned a lot from them. I know where to find information when I need it right away and that’s nice.”

Conclusion

In general; Audrey’s library experiences are positive, but not perfect. For her, the library is not her only information source, but the library is the reason for that. She credits her time learning about computers at the library for that. “I wouldn’t have access to all of this stuff without taking the time to come here and learn. I’m better off now for having all of this.”

References

Wicks, D. A. (2004). Older adults and their information seeking. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 22(2), 1-26. doi:10.1300/J103v22n02_01

LIBR 200 Blog Post #3 – Perspectives From a Community Leader

Note: I attempted to interview a member of my chosen information community of senior citizens learning computers. However, due to an emergency in the family of my interview subject; we were forced to postpone the interview until after the deadline for this post. Therefore, I’ve had to take a different path on this blog post compared to what I perceive is the goal of the assignment.

Fisher & Durrance (2003) write “The leaders of an information community are knowledgeable about access services and employ several strategies to foster the community’s growth and health.” For approximately six of my eight years working at a public library, I have been training adults on how to use computers. Using that definition, that would make me a leader of this information community of senior citizens who are looking to learn about using computers. As such, I can answer a couple of questions about this community.

Why do senior citizens want to learn more about computers?

There are many answers to this question. In my experience, the primary reason for older adults choose to gain more information about computers is to use it as an information resource for themselves. I have heard students say that they want to learn more about using e-mail in order to keep up with their children and grandchildren. They will want to learn about the Internet so they can get information for themselves, whether that is news or personal welfare or a hobby they have. Some will come in just to learn about trying to access my library’s downloadable media resources. It varies from person to person, but it ultimately boils down to the idea of access to information for these older adults.

In my research, I see a fair bit of consistency between the reasons my students come to class and why seniors in general want to learn more about computers. A 2014 Pew Research Center study shows that 75% of senior citizens who are active Internet users say that it is “easier to communicate with family and friends” thanks to their Internet use. Other primary motivations for using the Internet was shopping and gathering information on health issues. It should be noted that the same study says that only 18% of seniors age 65 and older have e-readers and/or tablet computers.

Shoemaker (2003) conducted a study of senior citizens taking a computer class and conducted interviews with six of the students. Among the reasons they cited for wanting to take the computer class was:

  • One was “surrounded” by computers at her job as a sorority housemother and was “fascinated” by them.
  • Another had some computer skills, but wanted to learn more about searching online and downloading.
  • A male with existing computer skills uses his computer knowledge to better connect with his sons, who are computer experts.
  • His wife attended classes so she could learn to use the Internet to “find out more about the world.” She also said that she did not want to be “left back in the 50s.”
  • Another couple said they wanted to use email to communicate with their children. The wife also cited her volunteer work as a reason for learning computer literacy.

Three of the female interviewees viewed computer skills as a way to enter the modern world. One said of computer literacy “It’s the thing!” Another, who was less enthusiastic about learning these skills; said that she did not want to “fall behind” modern society.

As far as the general primary information needs for senior citizens, Williamson (1997) created a list of information topics in order of importance from her study of senior citizens’ information needs. Health information was the number one priority from her study, with income and finances in second followed by recreation. Among the topics also listed were government, housing and accommodation, retirement benefits, legal issues, family and personal affairs, employment, services such as Meals on Wheels and volunteer opportunities.

How does this community gather this information?

There are multiple options for learning computers at the disposal of this community. Speaking for myself, I have taught classes on using the mouse, the keyboard, Microsoft Word and Excel and using the Internet. I have assisted with classes on using email and downloading e-books. All of the classes we do are hands-on practice with guided instruction on all of the steps. I will not say that the way I teach is perfect because I know it is not. In general, it is fairly effective for most students.

Of course, there are always books they could use. I will often be asked about computer books such as “Computers for Seniors for Dummies.” In our classes, we do give suggestions for books to look at for the various subjects. We are still a library, after all.

There are online resources to use as well. A popular one that I have recommended to many people, not just seniors is from the Goodwill Community Foundation. Their GCF Learn Free project at www.gcflearnfree.org is a comprehensive portal of learning on multiple subjects including computers. I have found it to be a very good complement to my teaching.

As for the literature that exists, the American Library Association lists as part of their recommendations for library services for older adults the following:

5.7 Consider providing computer and Internet courses specifically designed for older adults to accommodate a slower pace of instruction, provide sufficient time to develop “mousing skills,” and allow for the possibility that some older adults may have visual, physical, or hearing disabilities. If possible, include individual tutoring provided by peers or others.

I am still working on obtaining more literature to complement the above information.

What are the obstacles that have to be overcome?

The obstacles vary from person to person. Some older adults just have a natural fear of trying something so different. I am constantly reminding them that it takes a lot to break the computers and that it is OK to make mistakes. One of my favorite sayings that I have used for years is “there’s nothing wrong with making a mistake.”

One issue that I have been working on fixing is that the icons on the computer, specifically for the Microsoft Office programs; are very small and hard to see. In our classes, we project the monitor the teacher uses on to a white screen. No one can really see the icons on the projection, especially from the back of the room (and I do include myself in this). For some of our senior citizen students, it is very difficult to see the icons on their computer screen because Microsoft made them so small and our computer monitors are set to the highest resolution and cannot be adjusted. We are experimenting with using the Windows Magnifier tool as a potential fix, though I am not convinced it will work.

Another obstacle is simply an individual’s motor skills. Some older adults will not be able to click a mouse correctly right away due to the muscles in their hands not letting them press just one mouse button. The desks and chairs are not the most comfortable or adjustable, which also causes problems for all students.

The best piece of literature I have found to show that this is natural was written by Smith (2012) who used her own experiences from attempting to teach senior citizens how to use the Internet. She notes that many of her students had never even touched a computer before attending her classes. Once they overcame that obstacle, there were more issues to be had; including those blurry, wavy letters e-mail providers use to make sure whomever is signing up for their service is human and not a robot.

Shoemaker (2003) wrote about the physical and mental hurdles older adults must overcome in learning a computer. She notes that cognitive skills start to decline in most people around age 40, which delays reaction times and reduces the ability to process information. In the interviews she conducted, a couple of participants noted their fear with using computers. One female said that she did not enjoy using computers because “I’m afraid of them.” She also noted the typical hurdles of any classroom setting, such as people dominating the class conversation and wasting others time.

Conclusion

There are common threads in the paths senior citizens take to learn computer literacy. The reasons for why they want to learn vary slightly, but ultimately center on the themes of information and connections with others; meaning either their family or the modern age. There are many ways to get the information they are looking for, but it takes time and patience to develop those skills. Sadly, the abilities of these older adults can be a major obstacle in their way. But I know for a fact that with practice and patience, they can develop these computer literacy skills because I have seen it happen myself many times.

Resources

American Library Association, Reference and User Services Division. (2005). Guidelines for Library and Information Services for Older Adults. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines/libraryservices

Fisher, K., & Durrance, J. (2003). Information communities. In K. Christensen, & D. Levinson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of community: From the village to the virtual world. (pp. 658-661). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412952583.n248

Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (2014). Older Adults and Technology Use. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/older-adults-and-technology-use/

Shoemaker, S. (2003). Acquisition of computer skills by older users: A mixed methods study. Research Strategies, 19, 165-180. doi:10.1016/j.resstr.2005.01.003

Smith, N. (2012). Teaching computer skills to senior citizens: A library assistant’s learning experience. Georgia Library Quarterly, 49, 34-37.

Williamson, K. (1999). The role of research in professional practice: With reference to the assessment of the information and library needs of older people. Aplis, 12, 145-153.