Tech Support is the “New Reference”

As a corollary to Chuck M.’s recent, compelling post on “The Importance of IT Training in Libraries,” it occurs to me how important technology training in terms of general tech support to patrons has become, even to the point of becoming the “new reference.”

In a given month at my library, and I suspect at other libraries, too, tech support inquiries far outweigh and often eclipse what would be considered to be the traditional reference inquiries, such as finding an historical reference or what cemetery (of many in town) is the oldest where a decedent of interest might be buried.

As part of my monthly report to our library’s Director, I report how many and what kinds of tech sessions or inquiries that I supported during the month, and the number and variety are always amazing, but not necessarily surprising to me, since, as Chuck indicated in his post, libraries are not just about books in the sense of print materials, but more and more about digital content, like eBooks, eAudiobooks, eMagazines, streaming media, eSources, not to mention the electronic devices and apps that mediate this content. By offering all of this digital content, we are by default compelled (in a good way) to support all of the gadgets and devices that serve to deliver this content.

In addition, everywhere you look upon visiting any or most libraries, books are not the only thing on the lending or services menu, but also computers, laptops, tablets, video games and gaming equipment, WiFi, hotspots, state-of-the-art, audio-visual equipped meeting rooms, etc., all of which require some level of technical support and savvy for their delivery and maintenance.

By offering these things in the normal course of our operations, patrons can’t help but begin to think of us as technologists in some way and won’t hesitate to consult with us first (instead of Best Buy or their ilk) when they run into trouble with their own gadgets, and the more so if they are formally welcomed and invited by us. This means that it’s incumbent on us to develop our technical know-how through routine training and hands-on experience.