Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Helping the elderly

Today as I was stranded alone on the ref. desk for almost four hours a seemingly endless stream of patrons needing help bombarded me left and right. One such patron was an elderly lady who came up to me and said she wanted to get on the internet. When I started to explain the simple procedure for signing up she held up her hand interrupting me and said she didn’t have time for me to tell her, that I had to show her. I explained to her how busy the library was she said she was willing to wait and plopped down in one of the seating areas.
After about ten minutes things had calmed down some and I went over to the lady offering to help her get on the internet, but still explaining that I would have to leave her if someone approached the reference desk or the phone rang. She seemed understanding, and showed me the notepad she was carrying outlining how she wanted to set up a free email account and list some items on craigslist. Simple enough, I thought, but was I ever wrong…
I got her to Yahoo’s account sign up screen and since she was about as slow as molasses, I said I’d give her a few minutes to fill in all the information and then she could come get me if she had any problems. Another ten minutes went by and she came up to the reference desk quite angry.
“This stupid thing isn’t working right!” she yelled.
Since she was getting some attention, I tried to calm her down and said that it would be ok and we’d have a look at what was going wrong. Approaching her screen I found myself both confused and trying hard to suppress my laughter, as I have never seen someone fill out such a basic form in such a way. Her name was right, but all hell broke loose after that. For her birthday she entered today’s date, in the blank for the zip code she put the correct zip, but for some strange reason wrote her name “Candace” after it. I gently, but quickly went through trying to correct the errors. I pointed them out to her as we went along, but she would just wave her hand dismissively as if she had meant to do that and it was the computer’s fault they weren’t acceptable answers.
When I got to the email address she had tried to choose I stopped. In the blank she had typed “”
“This isn’t going to work,” I said pointing at the email address on the screen.
She didn’t like that answer. She turned to me with eyes blazing and screeched “WHAT??!” then she whipped out her little notepad and pounded on it saying “My son said I could have any email address I wanted and I want this one.”
I spent the next several minutes trying to explain to her the various reasons why her desired email address would never work, but in the end she just waved her hand again and said she would agree to one of the more sensible email addresses that Yahoo suggested in its place (but not before trying to enter in her home mailing address).
“Are you sure about this one?” I asked pointing to the screen. “Is this something that you want and think you can remember?”
She got angry again replying that it obviously wasn’t the email address she wanted and balked at my suggestion that she couldn’t remember something.
Next we went to the password section, where I could see by her little dots that she had chosen a password that contained about 15 characters and that also, in the blank below where she was to repeat it she had entered a password with probably at least two extra characters.
“These don’t match,” I tried showing her. Her response was to angrily delete them and start over, where again they didn’t match, nor did they on the third try. I told her that the password didn’t need to be so lengthy and she grabbed her notepad again, showing me a page where reportedly her son told her that “1234567” would be a good password. I told her that I didn’t agree with that and that passwords should be something that one can remember and still be secure, but all that got me was another dismissive wave. She entered in something different this time, about 10 characters long, and this time both password blanks matched.
I decided not to even explain the captcha to her (where instead of typing AW4r7t she entered “hello”) and just corrected it. We looked over the page once more, made sure everything was correct, and then submitted it. I brought up the sign in page for her and told her to go ahead and log in, where she stared blankly at me. Of course, she did not remember her email address or password. The alternate email address that she gave so she could get her information if she forgot? “Oh, I that’s my old email, I don’t remember the password to that one either.”
So I brought the sign up page back up, told her to fill it out again, but this time write down all her information in her notepad. I went away for 10 minutes and came back and we were back to square one: she was still angry about not being able to have as her email. We picked something else suggested by Yahoo again (wrote it down) and then her password, which she selected to be the make and year of her first car (and we had her write that down). After submitting it a second time, I brought the sign in screen up and let her have a go. And it wasn’t working. The email address was right, (I least I thought it was) but then again she had selected a random stream of numbers after her name – could we have written them down wrong? Skipped a number? But I couldn’t figure out how we would have the Chevy1965 wrong. After her third unsuccessful log in I basically ripped the keyboard from her hands and frustrated tried various password combinations to try to get it to work.
“Did you type Chevy in all caps or all lowercase or a combination of both?” I asked.
“The hell if I know!” she barked back. “Maybe I used capital numbers?”
I tried using the different characters after Chevy, but nothing worked. Now she got really mad and decided to just yell because of course she was right because even the librarian couldn’t get it to work.
Exhausted, I went back to the reference desk and got the name and number of our computer tutorial volunteer who does one on one instruction.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think we have any more time to work on this today and I have other patrons waiting, but if you schedule an appointment with our computer tutor they will be more than happy to help you set your email account up and they can give you more one on one attention,” I said handing her a slip of paper.
She grabbed the paper out of my fingers, crumpled it up into a ball, and tossed it on the floor. “Computer classes? That’s for mental defectives!” she shouted. I protested that it wasn’t, but as I looked around at the other computer users who were growing nervous by her behavior, I agreed with them that there was definitely a mental defective present. In her last stand she took her notepad and shoved it in my face, pointing to a now blank page and yelling, “My son told me I could have any name I wanted! He said so! I knew I should’ve never come to the library!” before storming off.
I hope that she will remember this interaction and never come to the library again.


  1. They always promise to never come to the library again, but they LIE!

  2. Yes, those pesky patrons never keep their promises!