Observations on Patrons’ Computer Habits

…and other stuff.

As part of my work duties, I manage most of the one-on-one technology requests that come in from patrons. If I’m not well-versed in the software (looking at you, Excel) or hardware, I then try my best to match the patron with a colleague. If we still cannot assist them, I email them a list of resources that we provide (Lynda.com being the biggest one). In the past week, I sat down for five one-on-one sessions. Thus prompted, I started thinking about patterns I’ve noticed.

I usually schedule the appointments in the Digital Media Lab when it is available. This gives us an enclosed space so we can talk and access to a high-powered Mac. The surprising thing is how many people bring their on laptops since they don’t believe they’re capable of transferring skills from one computer to another. What we’re usually working with is just inside a browser, so the operating system should not matter. Yet people insist, so I make room on the table for their laptop.

While assisting patrons, I often observe “bad habits” which I then gently try to correct. For example, instead of simply typing in a new search or URL, the person would just shut the browser each time. Or they do not know the difference between website URLs and email addresses (the @ being key). There are numerous other examples of what I thought were “basic” digital literacy skills, but these habits are usually developed from the person being self-taught. People usually give a nervous laugh before explaining that they’re afraid of breaking their computer so they rarely use their own machines. I sometimes do basic computer clean-up/repair by uninstalling the various spamtastic toolbars which are crowding their browser. Or I will recommend programs like Adobe Reader to help them accomplish their tasks. Another refrain is how many widows are using a computer that their spouse left behind. They loved the abilities and communication access the computer provided them. For example, video chatting with far away relatives. Missing that connection and wishing to become more tech independent, they contact me for help.

Some people are fairly tech savvy. They know their way around a computer. I usually then turn my attention to asking them if they need assistance with other areas I’m familiar with. For example, editing photos, creating file structures, or eyeballing their website for obvious items that should be changed. The users within this category often own websites since they’re professionals, but they paid someone else to build it for them years ago. If they can scrounge up their log in credentials, I’ll help them go in and change the copyright date to add an immediate “freshness” to the site. :-)

Overall, it’s a ground experience for me since I am not representative of the average internet user. I get frustrated at times with some of the complaints or observations I make with how people use our website (i.e. typing their email address into the catalog’s search box). Then I think of my one-on-one sessions and the shorter bursts of assistance I give. Then I take a breath and try to make things simpler.

How to Move 1000s of Emails into OneNote

For a project I’m working on, I needed to move THOUSANDS of emails over a 11 year period to a OneNote notebook. I had spent some time prior to this trying to decide how I wanted to collect those emails for easy access.

Why I choose OneNote:

  • Familiarity (how I got through grad school)
  • Easy to search, markup, and organize the emails
  • Unlike using a folder based system (like Drive) or Word, I’d have access to all my emails at once instead of having to open and close documents
  • Auto-sync of my files to SkyDrive

How to download and import emails:
I used the free trial of Postbox to downloaded all the emails to my computer. I then used the add-on of ImportExportTools to bulk export the emails in that folder as txt files.

Next, I used the OneNote powertoy, Text Importer to import all those txt files into a new OneNote notebook. This took a little while.

How to organize files:
To organize the files, I created separate sections in my notebook. The next part is manual labor, but I then just renamed the files and moved them to the appropriate section. However, the files are out of order. So I used the OneNote 2010 sort utility to put all the files in the right order.

Kind Words

Last night, way later than I’m usually up (whoo, staycation!), I thought to Google the title of my UX Magazine piece. In doing so, I found several kind words:

The first paragraph of this well-written article might just make you tear up a bit but keep reading. Amanda Goodman makes a good case that “user experience is an important tool for libraries to employ against a number of competitors like bookstores and at-home Internet access.” Indeed.

~Susan Grigsby

This is gold! Very inspiring.

~Nick Carman

Let me add, that Googling the article was a bit of a terrifying experience. I have not cultivated a tough shell for receiving criticism yet, so it was a leap of faith to do this. I was pleasantly surprised at these kind words! In the future, I hope to get greater constructive feedback on my work as well.

Review of Evanced Summer Reading Software

Provided by Evanced!

Property of Darien Library

This year we choose to do something a little different for our summer reading website. Last year’s website was a single page with me adding custom icons that reacted to being hovered over. Kiera, the head of the Children’s Library, decided that she wanted to go “all online” this year. She wanted to have children to be automatically entered in the drawing whenever they read X amount of minutes. She then discovered that we could use the Evanced Summer Reader software since we are a Connecticut library (check to see if your state library offers any goodies to your library).

Kiera and I attended one in-person training session to learn the product. It was promoted as being easy to customize. Within moments I realized that I would have to do some major overrides in the CSS to get what we wanted out of the system. My first attempts were shaky as the backend is broken down into dozens of CSS stylesheets. It’s somewhat difficult to figure out where you need to make a change to keep it consistent! So I wrote in to Evanced and they gave me some pointers. After that I was able to make changes on my own. I did discover a last minute weird behavior where I could not position the Registration button above the dynamic text. This surprised me to say the least!

You can see in the screenshot above what the initial site looked like and the comparison to our live site. Since the design for this year came in a bit later that I anticipated, the site is not fully customized as to how I’d like.


  • The spies/logo was designed by a freelancer that we hired.
  • The bright starburst background was originally in the logo, but I edited it out and placed it as the background of the website instead.
  • Using more spy language like “Gumshoe” and “Agent Name” was an inspired last minute change on my end.
  • The strange placement of items on the page is two fold:
    1. The system does not recognize between a logged in vs. a logged out user.
    2. Browser differences.

Overall, I’m pleased with our website. I’m all hyped up with an idea for next year’s theme. Check back then to see if it happens!