Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sometimes low tech is best

I love technology. I wouldn't be the Technology Librarian if I didn't. But I also like helping people solve problems, and sometimes the "low tech" solution is best.

A couple came in this week, he on Monday and she on Tuesday. They wanted to make a purchase from a certain retailer that has both an online and a brick'n'mortar presence. They don't have a computer at home, don't have an email address, and have no need of either, except for this one transaction. He insisted that I had helped him with a previous online purchase, but I have no memory of this and would have given the same answer then as I did this week. I certainly would not have let him use my own email address, as he suggested I had done.

I started to explain to him that it is still possible to begin purchases online and then complete them by phone. Many online retailers do this for customers who are understandably reluctant to entrust their credit card numbers to the dangers of the Internet. But to find out if we could do that with this particular retailer, we might have to go through the steps of starting the transaction, putting items into a virtual shopping cart, and saving the contents of the cart. Then we could find out what information was required to complete the transaction and what our options were. But before I could finish, he waved me off and left the library, clearly unsatisfied and convinced that I was "not willing to help him."

On Tuesday, she came in, clearly more experienced with using a computer and the Internet, but still without an email address. When she got to the screen for billing and shipping information, she asked for my help.

"Do I have to give them an email address?" Yes.

"Why?" It's a required field. It has a red asterisk next to it.

"What do they need that for?" They'll send you an order confirmation and, when your order ships, a shipping notification.

"Can't they just call me?" It doesn't work that way.

It looked like we had once again reached an impasse, but she at least recognized that there was no point in opening an email account if this is all she was going to use it for. She allowed me to help her locate a phone number for customer service, then she pulled out her cellphone and started calling the retailer, at which point I retreated to my desk. I didn't see her leave, but the staff member who was at the Circulation Desk told me she appeared to leave satisfied.

I hope she went home and told her husband that those mean old librarians were very helpful after all, and I hope that a Christmas surprise was not spoiled by the recipient having to purchase her own gift.

(photo of old-fashioned phone dial by Leo Reynolds,

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