Posted by: Jeremiah Graves | March 17, 2010

What Your Library Can (and Cannot) Do For You

I want to make something clear right now.

There is a very real difference between “perceived” and “actual” technological abilities of the folks sitting behind the desk at a library.

I wrote about one such instance last weekend, but today I was given another inside look at this perplexing dichotomy.

Some dude called into the library this evening asking for printing help.

I operated under the assumption he was referring to printing on campus—more notably, in the Libraries—this would seem a logical assumption given that he was calling, well, the library.

Being the awesome library dude that I am—no, seriously…I rock—I attempted to help him through his problem.

Mystified in Manchester: “Hi, I’m having some issues with a printer.”
Caring in Cambridge: “Okay, cool. What’s the issue?”
Mystified in Manchester: “Well, it’s not printing.”
Caring in Cambridge: “I guess that is a problem…hahahaha.”

This was met with complete and utter silence. I assumed that the lameness of my “joke” had either led to him deciding to end his own life via seppuku and/or he simply had a broken funny bone and didn’t pick up on the blatant hilarity that had just ensued.

Caring in Cambridge: “Huh…okay then…so can you tell me more about what’s wrong?”
Mystified in Manchester: “Sure. I want to print, but nothing will print.”
Caring in Cambridge: “Right. Could you be just a little more specific? Where are you printing from? What are you trying to print? Which printer are you sending it to? That type of thing.”
Mystified in Manchester: “Can you just log in and fix it?”
Caring in Cambridge: “I don’t know what you mean…”
Mystified in Manchester: “Like if I give you my IP address, can you log in and fix it?”

Let’s be honest folks, we can do a lot of things here at the library. We can help you with research, we can get you hooked up with books you thought you’d never get your grubby lil mitts on, and we can point you to the bathroom or un-jam staplers with the best of ‘em…but what we can’t do is fix every technical problem you have.

Library Peeps have IT guys that we come crying to when iTunes won’t start or when we can’t figure out how to change which picture of kittens shows up on our wallpaper.

They hate us for it, but it keeps them employed and feeling needed, it’s a good balance.

There’s some serious yin and yang stuff going on here, folks.

The key bit of information to take from our IT/Library Peeps relationship is that we, as Library Peeps, are not built to fix your technical problems.

Heck, beyond turning things off and on a few times and banging on them with my palm, I’ve got no other technical savvy.

Sure, sure…I can jiggle the mouse or try the good old alt+control+delete method…but that’s the extent of what’s in my bag of tricks. In all reality, I’m barely qualified to use email or log-in to Facebook without assistance.

As such, some dude asking me to “log in” with his IP address was akin to someone stomping into the library and screaming at me in Russian with an Italian accent…I sure as hell didn’t know what he was talking about or what I could do to help him.

Confused in Cambridge: “Yeaaaaaaah…um, I don’t know how to do that or even what I’d be doing if I did know how to do that.”
Mystified in Manchester: “This is MIT, right?”
Confused in Cambridge: “Yeppers, this is the Barker Engineering Library.”
Mystified in Manchester: “…and you can’t do this?”
Confused in Cambridge: “Not so much.
Mystified in Manchester: “Really?!”
Confused in Cambridge: “Yes, Sir…really. Now let’s try to figure out what the issue is here…did you try printing from one of the computers here in Barker or one of the other libraries?”
Mystified in Manchester: “Oh no, I’ve never been to the campus. I’m trying to print at my house in New Hampshire.”
Confused in Cambridge: “Wait…you’re trying to print TO our campus from your home? Or you’re trying to print…at your home…from your home?”
Mystified in Manchester: “Yeah, I’m trying to print from my desktop to my new printer. Can you help me set it up or not?”

There was a few moments of silence where I was contemplating giving seppuku a try and seeing if it lived up to the hype, then I remembered that I was still technically on the phone with a patron and should probably help him rather than stick a sword in my gut.

Confused in Cambridge: “No sir, I think you’re going to want to contact the manufacturer of the printer or maybe the “Geek Squad” or something, that’s not the type of problem we usually deal with here.”
Mystified in Manchester: “…but….but you’re MIT.”
Confused in Cambridge: “Right…the library, this is the library. We don’t usually do trouble-shooting on electronics.”
Mystified in Manchester: “So even if I give you the IP address, you can’t log in and set it up?”

There was another awkward moment of silence whilst I bit my tongue to avoid saying anything that could be perceived as uncouth or ill-mannered…or true.

Then I took a breath and politely replied:

Confused in Cambridge: “No sir, you’re going to need to contact someone else, again I recommend the manufacturer or the “Geek Squad.””
Mystified in Manchester: “…but, you’re MIT.”
Confused in Cambridge: “Yes. Yes this is MIT, but we’re not in the business of helping people install home electronics. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to try elsewhere. Goodbye.”

I hung up as he kept mumbling butyou’remitbutyou’remit into the other end of the phone.

Maybe I’ve worked in libraries for too long. I guess it’s been like eight years now, so perhaps I’m a little out of it, but please tell me, my Faithful Readers…do all y’all—who aren’t Library Peeps yourselves—actually perceive us as all-powerful beings who can fix any problem you may have?

…or do I just attract the craziest of the crazy?!

Please lemme know…opinions on this will be greatly appreciated.



  1. Wow. That’s pretty much all I can say right now.


  2. You do attract the crazies–but I think this particular case was the luck of the draw. Imagine Carol F. dealing with this…..


    • I assume she’d have found a way to make the dude cry?!


  3. By the by–clock is off by an hour–unless this is Iowa time.


    • a) I always operate on Iowa time, who doesn’t?!
      b) WordPress is a little slow in getting their time zones updated.


  4. Seppuku. I might hug you.


  5. […] know that I have blogged many-a-time in the past regarding the large gap that exists between the perceived abilities of the […]


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  7. […] co-workers in on the fun. I’ve attempted to clear up any confusion regarding what libraries can and cannot […]


  8. […] And it’s not like devouring a KFC Double Down is going to negatively influence the way I handle complicated technology questions. […]


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