A Nottinghamian, and On Being a Web Mule

A Nottinghamian

A man approached me on the floor, and asked me if the library had anything by Stan Barstow. He was a stout, older man, in his sixties, perhaps, with a weathered face, a hooked nose like John Lennon, and a "Notts" football team patch on his sweater. He had heard that Barstow's writing was similar to that of Alan Sillitoe, though he guessed no one read Sillitoe anymore. I said that I, for one, had enjoyed Sillitoe very much.

We had only Barstow's Just You Wait and See, in large print. He wanted, if I recall, A Kind of Loving, Barstow's first novel in what would become his Vic Brown Trilogy. I took an ILL request for it, and then showed him John Harvey's DI Charlie Resnick novels, set, like many of Sillitoe's novels, in Nottingham. I handed him the first one, Lonely Hearts.

Barstow wrote mostly about West Yorkshire, rather than Nottingham, but he was associated with Sillitoe and John Braine as a leader of the Realism movement of the early sixties in Britain. Like Sillitoe's gritty Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Barstow's A Kind of Loving was made into a film, starring Alan Bates. I must see if I can get it.

On Being a Web Mule

I don't know what else to call it, so I have made up a name for it. I am talking about people who, unwilling to learn to use a computer, and having neither an e-mail address nor a credit card, want to use librarians to do business for them online, especially by telephone. Dealing with these people is about the most uncomfortable and frustrating experience that I encounter in my work.

I had a couple of them on Tuesday, each one taking about twenty minutes, during which my co-worker had to handle all other desk traffic by herself.

One woman was trying to enroll in a test preparation course for the Certified Nursing Assistant exam. She hoped that I could supply her with a list of nearby providers with toll-free numbers. She wanted me to try web addresses that she made up, a common strategy with the computer illiterate: what they're looking for, with ".com" on the end, cnatesting.com, cnaclasses.com. We descended into a hell of clueless forums and crap search engines. I could feel her anguish over the phone, as I failed to retrieve the imaginary list. She sounded so desperate. I tried to imagine what she must be doing for a living, if she aspired to be a CNA.

I tried it my own way, going to the Florida Department of Health, which administers the test. But the FDOH, other than strongly recommending that candidates take such a course before attempting the exam, offered no help in selecting a test prep provider. I finally said that I had to close the call, that other people were waiting for assistance. She said that she would call back in five minutes.

I continued to look, hoping to have something ready if she called back. The more I looked, the more depressing it got. It seemed to me that CNA test prep might be something of a scam, as I have come to regard the test prep industry in general. The courses were not offered by vocational schools or community colleges, but by "schools" in strip-mall storefronts. One poster to a forum, having taken such a course, wondered why, if there was such a demand for CNA's, she could not find a job. I was unable to find any training in Tallahassee, but I found a place in Jacksonville, and printed out the information to leave at the desk. The woman never did call back.

Another woman called, excited about an episode of Mystery Diagnosis, a Discovery Network program that she had watched that morning. The episode had been about Lyme disease, from which she suffered, and she wanted to purchase it on DVD for her Lyme disease support group. My initial search got nowhere, and we had to drill down through the DISH Network site to find the local TV schedule and determine the correct title of the episode she had seen, The Stabbing Sensation. The Discovery site directed customers to iTunes. I explained that she would have to download and install iTunes to purchase the episode, not realizing that she didn't even have a computer.

After lunch I got a message that she had called back. I returned her call. She confessed that she did not have a computer, and that she had spoken to the leader of her support group, who had not been able to order the episode on DVD. I explained that it was only available as a video download, and was not available on DVD. She asked me to send the details to her group leader, which I did, after I found that it was more easily available from Amazon as on-demand video. But it was still not burnable to a CD, being one of those confounded DRM-protected Windows Media videos. It could, however, be loaded into a compatible portable video device.

It takes my breath away when I realize how fast recorded sound and video delivery is changing. DVD's seem to be going the way of CD's. How will this affect library media collections, which have been the public library "growth sector" for the last twenty years? Will they wither away? I expect that CD's and DVD's will survive as "boutique" formats, for works that do not have enough of an audience to merit distribution by the media giants.


Mercedes said...

I reckon DVD's peaked awhile ago. They will hang around in much the same way as VHS tapes still circulate. There is VHS content that never made it to DVD and the same will apply to DVD content. Streaming content or downloading files will only work for that part of our user population that has reliable fast internet connections at home and/or laptop capacity that can be used inside the library to download at a specified station. How it will work for libraries is still up in the air. If the latest blockbuster movie like Transformers 2 that grossed close to $400 million comes only as a digital file then how will we acquire it? Will we have our own servers to store these files or will we use a 'middle man' like OverDrive? On the other hand maybe our media collection will shrink and instead we will be the place to do free downloading of digital content from source providers. Good quality laptops are getting cheaper and cheaper and storage space is cheap too. Many of the Army National Guardsmen that are part of the local 779th Engineering Battalion spent weeks ripping their DVD collection to terabit drives and then packed them up with their light weight laptops! While in their temporary home outside Mosul they have been using Iraqi provided bandwidth - that they each have to pay for - to download films and television series from iTunes.

Brett said...

Thanks, Mercedes, for your excellent comment! Mercedes is our media buyer, so she should know. That blows me away about the National Guardsmen ripping their DVD collections. I am such a geezer. My sister, when I stayed with her in Tampa, recorded shows with Tivo to watch at her convenience. Ronda and I still wait to see shows when they are scheduled on Comcast, and miss them if we can't watch them when they are scheduled.