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October 3, 2005

Since last week, when we discussed how to help people use the library’s computer catalog, we’ve come up with a new plan.

A regular customer of the library, Tim Sundgren, suggested convening a small tribunal of library patrons to help write instructions for using the catalog. OK, he didn’t use the word tribunal.

But this would be a project for those who don’t use the catalog — who don’t know how, but would like to. No computer experience is required. In fact, no computer experience is preferred. If you have some experience but that experience was bad, you might still qualify.

Tim will help guide the project. We hope to discover stumbling blocks in using the catalog that would not be noticed by more experienced users. Then, together we can write instructions that will help a novice see clearly how it works.

We should be able to do this. Even the look of a book record in the computer catalog is based on the old cards in the card catalog. There’s the title and the author. Then a line with publisher information and the copyright date. Then subject headings.

Just as with the card catalog, you can search the computer catalog by author, title, and subjects.

So, this is a promising project. There must be ways of making the connection between how the card catalog worked and how the computer catalog works, even for self-proclaimed “computer illiterates.” Perhaps you’ll consider being part of this effort.

I mean, despite the fear of it, one can’t really hurt the computer catalog. Computers occasionally “lock up,” but then card catalog drawers occasionally stuck and cards went missing.

I think the computer catalog should be usable with minimal or no instruction. Often, what’s programmed to show on a computer screen can be made more intuitive.

But there’s always an underlying paradigm that must be understood. With the card catalog, it was the alphabet, plus knowing a subject card from a title card from a main entry card. With early computers, it was the cursor on the screen and the keyboard under your fingers.

Then came the mouse, and its pointer on the screen. Users had to learn to move a mouse on a horizontal surface in order to move a pointer on a vertical one. Such technology changes.

You might recall a Star Trek movie in which the U.S.S. Enterprise goes back in time to our era. While visiting an engineering lab, Scotty begins talking to the computer. Nothing happens. Someone points to the mouse. Disgusted at such primitive technology, he picks it up and starts talking into it as if it were a microphone.

However, I did notice that once Scotty got the computer to respond, he began typing furiously and expertly. Some skills endure.

If you use our webpage and library catalog, you might look at a new link on our home page: Click on the link “Bestsellers,” and you’ll see the current New York Times bestseller lists in fiction and non-fiction.

Click on a title, and you’ll go to our catalog record for the book, where you can see if it’s checked in or out, and add yourself to the hold list, if you like.

If you don’t know what I mean by “click on,” then you might be a good candidate for our catalog committee. Let me know if you’d like to help us write good instructions for the library catalog. We hope to start in a couple-few weeks.


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