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Diary of a Librarian: SupportAssist Is The Root Of All Evil

Technically, I’m a technology librarian. That means that I know kind of how to make the computers behave themselves under ideal circumstances. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, I can either call tech support and spend hours on the phone or gracefully give up and text our IT contractor. However, there’s a decent handful of problems that I can manage on my own.

In a strictly professional sense, SupportAssist is one of these. However, I am not emotionally qualified to handle this cringingly horrible piece of Dell bloatware. Every time it does a new weird thing, which is about once every other week, my heart falls.

Even when SupportAssist is working correctly, everything about it is annoying. For example, when it’s processing, it flashes three little waiting dots. One two three. Right? Dot 1 flashes and goes out, dot 2 flashes and goes out, dot 3 does the same, then repeat. Right? RIGHT?

WRONG.

SupportAssist’s first dot flashes correctly, but the second and third flash together. Simultaneously. Every. Single. Time. Even though it’s a stupid superficial thing that doesn’t matter at all, the obviousness of this bug galls the hell out of me. It looks so bad. Also, if your intuition tells you that someone who missed that glaring issue might have missed others, then give that intuition of your a big wet smack on the lips, because it’s a winner.

Problems with SupportAssist abound. I could schpiel on for days about the nonsense I’ve endured with this damnable program, from times I’ve tried to remove it (it reinstalled itself) to times I’ve tried to update it because it was being an enormous heckin’ vulnerability. (Incidentally, during that fascinating episode, SupportAssist actually refused to install. What a world!)

For the past several weeks, I’ve been trying to stop SupportAssist from forcing popup notifications on our patrons. These are just update requests, but they require an admin password, and patrons, skittish darlings that they are, aren’t equipped to deal. Anyway, making any change to these computers requires turning off our disk imager, DeepFreeze, before I make any changes. There are a couple of restarts involved. The process is a bit of a slog, but it’s worth it because DeepFreeze is a great piece of software that keeps everybody’s filthy data off our nice clean library machines.

So I’m not sorry that I’ve been unfreezing and freezing our DeepFreeze clients for the last month, trying to figure out how to make SupportAssist stop yelling at our patrons. That’s just part of the game. I’m also thrilled that our IT consultant figured out a lasting fix – yay! What maddens me is that today, when I tried to apply said fix, I discovered that the issue had begun because SupportAssist had either a. tried to update itself and installed a bad version; b. become universally corrupted on all computers and decided to watch the world burn instead of working; c. decided to ask the user before updating its own bad self while also not being capable of doing that because it was too broken; d. all of the above.

I’m going to go with d. Somehow, it’s d.

That meant that I had to reinstall SupportAssist on each machine just so that I could tell it to never notify the user about its need for updates, driver or otherwise, ever again. It took…a while. I spent a lot of time watching its little waiting dots.

On the bright side, it does seem to have worked. As a certain TV hero once said, I love it when a fix comes together, at least long enough for the program to un-toggle it and/or go wonky so that I have to go back in and start all over again.

Until next month, SupportAssist.

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Diary of a Librarian: Dum-dums for Patrons

If you’ve ever worked at a library service desk, then you absolutely know that patrons can be surly, rambunctious, problematic, inappropriate, and rude. Any patron can become an issue – I’ve personally had the most trouble with older, wealthier people – but in some cases, the issue is obvious: hanger.

Hanger is the pernicious emotional combination of hunger and anger that manifests when your blood sugar level falls at the same time as your email fails to load. When I see it in the library, it’s usually in kids and homeless people. There aren’t any eateries nearby and the city itself doesn’t support any shelters that I know of, so it stands to reason that these populations would be the hangry ones.

However, the weeks surrounding Halloween have been blessedly free of hanger-related orneriness. Why? Because we put out a festive seasonal candy dish.

The candies weren’t what you’d call choice. Most were the small suckers the kids back home used to call dum-dums [edit: this is, incredibly, what they’re actually called] and hard candy a la Werthers. My awesome coworker, who is nice to the point that I want her to give a librarian master class, added a bunch of leftover fun-sized chocolate bars today. However, even hard candy disappeared at a steady rate. Who took it? Our homeless patrons, that’s who! Teens and kids as well. Once dined, their dispositions and our patron interactions noticeably improved.

So here’s my proposal: let’s keep the spirit of Halloween alive all year long. Nobody’s going to clean us out of dum-dums. They’re sucky candy in multiple senses. Let’s stock them at the reference desk 365 days of the year! People could take as many as they’d like from a freely available bowl, although I suspect they’d only take two or three at the most. Nobody’s going to try to survive on dum-dums, and it takes a while to eat one. That’s ten-ish minutes when the patron is not immediately in want of food and therefore irritable.

Honestly, I might buy them in bulk with my own personal money. It’s not like this is caviarWe’re re-opening the reference floor soon and we’ll definitely see our foot traffic increase again. I’d like to see our patron interactions remain as positive as they have been with our regulars these past few months.


Diary of a Librarian: Please Do Not Touch The Librarian

It just happened again. A patron grabbed my arm.

Most people have a little gauge in the back of their head. It indicates whether or not it is appropriate to touch somebody else in a social situation.

touch gauge

Looks like this.

Police officer? Do not touch. Mom? Do touch. Bartender? Ask to touch. Librarian?

Experience suggests that some people think it’s totally OK to touch the librarian.

Patron touches happen way more often than I like. In fact, not a month goes by without some kind of surprise physical contact from someone I’m helping. This latest one, which happened less than an hour ago, came from a patron who referenced an autistic family member and therefore should have known not to touch strangers without asking.

I’ve experienced the following types of physical contact from patrons at various points in my career, all unsolicited:

  • Hugging
  • Arm grabbing
  • Shoulder patting
  • Hand holding
  • Hand stroking
  • A finger running up the back from lumbar to shoulders
  • Knee to knee contact under a table
  • Foot to foot contact under a table

Some of those were legit creepy sexual harassment attempts. But Anna, I hear you chirp. Hugs aren’t so bad. What could be so bad about an innocent little hug? Well it so happens that I’ve thought a great deal about this. Allow me to expound.

The Slippery Slope

If a patron is allowed to grab my arm without asking, I can at least expect more grabbing. I may also expect other types of escalation. The patron who stroked my hand in a disturbingly sexual way that was definitely and absolutely a bad touch? She’d started by brushing my arm to get my attention. While not all unwelcome patron contact comes with a preamble, I have noticed that a pushy patron will sometimes test the waters with casual contact before grasping, petting, and otherwise getting all up in my business. This isn’t uniformly the case. The particularly upsetting back-stroking incident, for example, happened as the patron in question basically ran by. Nevertheless, initial exploratory contact happens often enough that I now try to head it off at the pass with a polite but direct “Please don’t touch me.”

Respect The Librarian

Touching without asking indicates an inherent assumption of entitlement to the librarian. In this case, it’s not just that the patron considers themselves to have special social privileges that you do not have – because they do, that’s a given – but that you’re below the social level where they need to think of you as a human with preferences and concerns. It is a sad fact that some people afford more respect to expensive vases than they do to people who work service jobs. Unsolicited touching also implies that the patron assumes that there’s nothing you can do to protest their behavior if you happen to dislike it, so that possibility isn’t worth wondering about. They proceed to treat you like a thing, and a cheap thing at that, through the vehicle of unasked-for physical contact.

Inconsistency Is Doom

A patron came to the reference floor a couple weeks ago and ended up crying because of some unrelated life stresses. She then asked if she could hug me. I let this happen partially because she had asked nicely before just grabbing, but mainly because I was afraid of what would happen to her emotionally if I refused. It wasn’t a great experience, but I endured and nobody dissolved into actual screaming. Greater good served. However, what if that patron had been male? Call me sexist, but I wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable hugging a man I didn’t know. That’s a policy based on my personal feelings! If I refused to hug a guy who knew that I’d agreed to hug a woman, I’d be revealing a prejudiced attitude on my part that could impact whether or not the patron continues to use the library. It’s also a good passive-aggressive way for a creepy guy to do his creepy thing and try to socially coerce a librarian into an uncomfortable situation.

I Just Don’t Like It

I don’t have autism and I wasn’t abused. I’m not trying to perform some hypermasculine butchness routine and I’m not too cool for normal people. I just like my personal space. I’m sure I’m not alone. You may feel differently. Feel free to share your strategies, philosophies, and thought on how to manage the touchy patron situation. However, no matter how you cut it, physical contact with patrons is not part of a public librarian’s responsibilities. Don’t let a patron edit your job description on the fly.


Diary of a Librarian: The Charging Cord Blues

I’ve had a lot of burners on the stove lately. In addition to the biggies, which I won’t discuss because they will bore you, I must keep my Libby-based digital audiobook stash fresh. This means zooming through The Cuckoo’s Calling at 2.5x normal speed so I can read whatever’s just downloaded from my holds list.

The things that stress out librarians.

Also stressing me out is the cost of replacing our charging cords. At my library, we hand out charging cords in exchange for a collateral ID card. Usually, the people who need charging cords are kids, and usually, they don’t have any ID on them.

What am I going to say? No, foolish child! Go file for a state ID and then come see me about this $30 cord after a seven-to-ten day wait for shipping! Ugh. Obviously I let the kids take the cord, and they’re generally pretty honest. I have them write down their name and phone number just in case they forget to bring the cord back, but that would be tough these days. I’ve figured out a way to wire a laminated tag to the plug housing in such a way that it can’t be gotten off without breaking one of the wires.

From now on, any disappearances are definitely theft. Conceptually, disappearances might have been happening before now, but one cord looks very much like another and we’d incorporate enough found cords into our little collection that our supply remained fairly stable. Not that it’s not theft to swap out your busted cord for our nice one. I wouldn’t be 100% surprised if this is why our cords have been aging so fast, because they have been aging fast. One day, the cord is brand-new; the next, it will not charge for god or country.

On the other hand, we also get cord donations occasionally. I’m fairly sure that these are well-meaning, but it results in a couple negative eventualities:

  • The used cords become busted cords more quickly anyway, and since we don’t know the cord’s age we can’t really guess when that will happen
  • We end up with irregular and off-brand cords that don’t work as well as quality ones
  • As bad as lookism is, it’s nice to have a consistent brand, and a random hot green cord disrupts our branding game
  • We always have a ton of Android cords and never have enough iPhone cords.

We’ve flirted with the idea of getting dedicated charging stations for the library before, and although they are fairly expensive, I think they’d solve some of the squirrelly minor issues with lending charging cords. Now that we’ve got to revamp our entire reference floor anyway, it seems like it might finally happen. That said, I sincerely hope that we get one for each floor so that people don’t have to glom onto just one unit.

We’re going to have to be conscious of replaceability if we go with a standalone charging unit a la conference or mall charging kiosk. The other reason that our cords might be aging out so fast might have to do with how patrons are using them. As usual, the root problem is data collection. We don’t really know what the patrons are doing to our equipment, though the imagination paints some interesting pictures, and if we don’t know that, we don’t know nothin’.

On the other hand, we could just gin up some shoeboxes with power strips inside. Added bonus: we could decorate those any way we wanted. Housing options are essentially unlimited. We could use a bread box, a basket – god, one trip to A.C. Moore multiplies the possibilities. There are myriad ways to hide a bus. Maybe we could borrow a few extra dollars from the replace-iPhone-cords discretionary fund for security measures. I figure a few wall anchors, some tastefully disguised chicken wire, and a padlock ought to do the trick.


Diary of a Librarian: On Printers and Signage

About 90% of my job is walking people through the printer instructions. We do have signage up and yes, people do read it. Or, at least, they claim that they do. In reality, many of them either miss the existence of the instructions or barely glance over Step One and then proceed to get themselves kerfuffled. At this point, I swoop in.

This situation with our printer illustrates the weaknesses of signage. There are a few major reasons that patrons don’t pay attention to our lovely written instructions, and they are as follows:

  • The patron can’t read
  • The patron can’t read English
  • The patron is very tired
  • The patron is young
  • The patron is in a rush
  • The patron has an intellectual disability
  • The patron does not have reading glasses with them
  • The patron is taking a medication that inhibits their cognitive or visual abilities
  • The patron is sick
  • The patron has a mental health problem
  • The patron is in the early stages of dementia
  • The patron is used to using a different kind of printing system
  • The patron is lazy
  • The patron is high

It’s important to note that patrons are rarely at fault. Most of the time, when patrons can’t understand the instructions, there’s either a language barrier or an intellectual problem like ADHD. Not that I’m qualified to diagnose, but there are a few clear ringers among my patronage.

Don’t misinterpret me here: signage is still extremely useful when it comes to our printer. During the start of my time at this library, patrons routinely tried to print $25 jobs at a go. Since our bill acceptor can only handle $5 at a time, this meant that the enormous $25 job in question was lost and there were tears and misery all around. Then we changed the default desktop background on all computers to a custom wallpaper. This was simply a banner that read The printer cannot accept jobs of more than $5. Please print in batches of 33 pages at most or see a librarian. Or something like that. We slapped our logo on there, made it a jpeg, and hid the file so that nobody could mess with it once we made it the default background. And it worked! Once in a blue moon someone won’t read the sign, but that’s usually younger patrons and people in a rush.

This particular situation is aided by the fact that most people who come into the library to print just want a couple sheets. If everyone needed to print dissertations, maybe we’d have a bigger problem. Even so, that sign was effective at reducing incidents. Posting the printer instructions next to the release station really has helped too. It just also happens to have highlighted the cases where the patron is having a bad time because their entire day is actually going badly. We have become printer paramedics: we only ever see the emergencies.

There’s an unintended consequence here that professionals need to be aware of. Signage is most useful for patrons who happen to have their shit together on the particular day that they’re using the printer, so you’re never going to interact with that set. Instead, as I mentioned before, you’ll primarily see people who are busy, frustrated, and are generally having a bad day. Over time, this will skew your perception of your patrons. I have days when I need to work hard to remember that I’m here to help people who need help. Of course I’m going to get difficult questions, cranky patrons, and people who just can’t do it. That’s why libraries still need that human touch! As a certain wise professor of mine once said, librarians, man.

It can be tiring to show people how to use the printer again and again. However, I believe that it’s made me a better librarian and a more empathic person. The only thing I’d change is my training. In all my years of grad school, where I built databases, crunched large sets, studied arcane cataloging techniques, and learned how to preserve vellum, I never received the training that would have come in most useful at this gig. Namely, social work training. How to recognize and manage a patron with such severe OCD that a crooked photocopy is cause for a meltdown. How to deal with a teen who’s mad about a printer because he’s just been passed over for adoption…again. The telltale signs of a patron who can’t read and doesn’t want you to know it – and how to help them without humiliating them.

God help me, but I think librarians need yet another degree.