You get a sixth sense with some library customers. As I worked through the simple trouble-shooting steps, the woman beside me was becoming increasingly agitated.
‘I have to scan these documents,’ she said.
‘Yes, we have to get you logged onto this PC first.’
‘Then I have send them.’ She shifted nervously, from foot to foot, her frame slight, her jaw tight.
‘Yes, we can do that too. Have you logged out of the other terminal?’
‘Oh, no, sorry.’
‘Right, let’s try the password again, shall we?’
We eventually got the woman logged onto the fifteen minute PC. At which point, I could have handed her over to my colleague. I was only meant to be on the library floor to cover tea relief. But my colleagues were busy and I’d taken longer to troubleshoot the problem than I’d have liked. I pulled up a chair and prepared to see the woman’s project through to the end.
We placed the documents onto the flat-bed scanner and followed the simple step-by-step instructions. She had logged onto a fifteen minute terminal and the clock was ticking down. I asked how she wanted to save the documents. She chose to email them to herself. Though, from her nervous smile, I could tell wasn’t too confident about her ability to complete the task.
We logged onto Hotmail, attached the documents. ‘Write something in the subject line so you can find them,’ I suggested, imagining she simple, neutral words like: scanned documents, or library scanning. She typed the words: application compassionate grounds.
As I said, you get a sixth sense with some people.
We sat waiting for the email to arrive. By the time it hit the woman’s inbox, her fifteen minutes was almost up. We checked the attachment, deleted the file from the computer’s memory and logged out.
‘Do you want to log you onto another terminal and send them now?’
She hesitated. ‘Maybe another day.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘It’s just well, I get anxious, you see.’
Yes, I saw, perhaps more than she realized. ‘They will be safe in your inbox until next time,’ I assured her. ‘You can do them whenever you are ready. We are always here to help.
‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Thank you for understanding.’
At other times, you get the whole thing wrong. In this instance, I was serving a stooped, elderly woman wearing a yellow hand-knitted beanie.
‘I can’t use your computers,’ she said. ‘Can you help me find a book?’
‘Yes, of course.’ I smiled benignly. Hers wasn’t an uncommon question, especially among the woman’s demographic many of whom missed the boat on the technology front and now find themselves needing help in certain circumstances. ‘What book are you after?’
‘I’d like something on Canadian totem poles.’
Right, I thought. That’s out of the box. I’d expected her to name a favorite author, or the latest family saga.
‘I’m a lacemaker,’ she added. ‘My son and his family are living in Canada. I’d like to create a piece of lace based on the totem poles in their area.’
Right, I thought, technologically challenged and beanie wearing but no slouch in the arts and crafts department. I couldn’t make a piece of lace to save my life. But as it happened, if did know a little about Canadian totem poles. We used to have an amazing book about the artist Emily Carr. I typed in her name. Sadly, the book was no longer on our system. I widened my search, found some possibilities and and took her down to the relevant section. ‘If you don’t find anything come back to me,’ I said. ‘I can always do a Google search and print a picture out for you.’
‘Oh, I’ve already done a Google search,’ she said. ‘On my tablet. I didn’t find anything that took my fancy.’
Right, I thought, a culturally aware, lace-making, tablet-using old woman. I slunk back to the reference desk making a mental note not to make anymore foolish assumptions about stooped, senior citizens in hand-knitted beanies.