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Technology assistance should be more accessible

I’m not much of a technology person. I mean, I’m not the kind of person who has to search out each key on the keyboard in order to type, and I never use AltaVista in an attempt to find my email account. I’ve never shoved a floppy disk into my CD drive, but I can’t tell you what HTML stands for. That being said, when my computer flashes warning messages that there is some kind of issue with my firewall or system settings or network availability, I never exactly know how to solve it.

I assume, based on the popularity of the Library Help Desk, that I’m not alone in my skill set. In fact, based on the number of people I regularly see at the desk it wouldn’t surprise me if every Brandeis student uses their services at least once over their academic career. Knowing just how important and how well used the help desk is, one would expect their functioning to be well planned and effective. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely so.

To illustrate, let me tell you about my last visit to the desk. I had been having issues connecting to the wireless network and I wasn’t sure exactly what the problem was. I approached the counter and asked if someone could help me. The man told me to wait there, and I proceeded to spend 15 minutes waiting for someone to help me. I could see people going into and out of the office, but none would come over to me or make eye contact. Eventually, a woman came over and asked me what was wrong. I told her I couldn’t connect to the network, and she asked me for my laptop. When I gave it to her, she stared at me and inquired, “Don’t you carry around a case?” I had always used the laptop compartment of my backpack, and I didn’t realize it was a problem. However, the way she asked me that question, as if any reasonable person would know that I was doing something obviously wrong, completely robbed me of my confidence.

In the end, I never learned what was wrong with my laptop. After a while, the woman handed it back to me and told me the issue was fixed, but didn’t say how. If I ever experience that problem again, I’ll have no way of addressing it or solving it short of going back to the desk.
My visit to the help desk revealed a number of basic problems with the status quo. Firstly, I never actually learned the answer to my problem. It may be the stated purpose of the help desk to solve computer issues, but the best way to solve common problems over the long term is to teach people how to solve their problems. Most computer issues aren’t caused by some freak occurrence on a laptop, but a user making some error, from going to virus-prone websites to drinking coffee in bed while writing a paper. Educating people about what they did well and might need to work on could really help the help desk improve its operations.

Similarly, the help desk would work a lot better if it could better engage its customers. Forcing people to wait long periods of time and then making them feel ignorant about their issues isn’t an effective way to help people fix their technology issues. In fact, this type of customer service is more likely to make people uncomfortable going to the help desk in the future. As is, I’m certainly unwilling to head to the help desk if I think I can figure the problem out on my own.

This is a real problem for accessibility on campus. Everyone comes into Brandeis with different technological skills. Some people are simply more attuned to how computers work, some went to high schools with expensive computer labs, and some people never had the opportunity to work on a home computer, or didn’t get the latest technology. One’s wealth or socioeconomic class shouldn’t affect their ability to succeed here, but if we have no way to bridge the digital divide, that’s exactly the consequence.

Every day, my professor posts an article or reading to LATTE. I have worked in a newspaper doing layout, edited and watched videos for debate and browsed the web to find the latest Super Bowl Left Shark memes. In short, I use technology everyday simply to survive on campus. Access to technology is key on our campus, and we need to level the playing field in any way possible to ensure that success.

All in all, we need to guarantee that our help desk really helps our people. We shouldn’t be divided by our past, nor should we be united by the terrible service we experience when our laptops break. Our help desk might be broken, but with a little reform it could be back on track.

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