Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Hive Mind

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Hive Mind

Article excerpt

One of the best pieces of advice I give to librarians and new tech learners alike is this: When you get an error message on your computer, Google it.

This is an oversimplification of a larger piece of wisdom: If you are having trouble with your computer, chances are that someone else has also had the same problem, has solved it, and has written about that solution online. You can benefit by reading about other people's similar experiences. At the very least, you can figure out definitively if your problem is, indeed, unsolvable. Often, though, you can fix things. There are places to go online where people discuss tech support issues. These forums are frequently more user-friendly than the tech support that comes with your software or hardware. Having a group of people, even nonexperts, working together on a problem is sometimes better than one person who either does or does not know the correct answer.

Using the Hive Mind

I used this technique recently when I upgraded to the latest operating system on my laptop. Almost everything worked fine, but my EVDO card, which I use to connect to the internet when I'm on the road, wasn't working properly. It was unclear whether this was an Apple problem, a Sprint problem, or a Sierra Wireless problem; it wasn't even clear whether this was a hardware or a software problem. After about 10 minutes Googling around using the text of my error messages, I was able to determine that this was a problem many other people were having, though no one had fixed it yet. By the next day, I found a post in a Sprint forum that listed a set of steps that would work to solve the problem and get me connected, even though the software that I had still wasn't working.

The interesting part of this, to me, is that while the solution was technically available on Sprint's website, it was difficult to find through the usual "go to the company website, click on the support link" methods. However, it was simple to find if I started off on the "Sprint Community" part of the website--a section I hadn't even considered when I first hit the site.

In this column, I'll explain a little bit more of the technique that "Google it!" is a gloss for. For many librarians, this may be old hat; for many of our patrons, it can be yet another magic trick that highlights the things that our skills and training have prepared us for. That said, there are ways to do this that work better than others.

The Familiar Steps

I'm surprised when people ask me computer questions both in and out of the library. Many times they haven't even tried to call tech support with their problem. They give reasons ranging from the unhelpfulness of tech people to not knowing whom to call to not even knowing that they (often) get free tech support with their computers. I advise them to at least try to call tech support first since, practically speaking, it's worth knowing what tech support says. If tech support says the ball is in your court or if they can't resolve your problem, then I would try something like this:


1. Google the error message, if you have one. Or use your favorite search engine of choice--all the biggies work well for this.

2. If there is no specific error message, think of a few words for your issue and Google them.

3. Look at the results you are getting and assess the following:

a) Are other people using the words you used? Should you use new words?

b) Where are people talking about these issues online?

c) Is there a hardware/softwarespecific forum for your issue?

d) Is there a place where specialists on this topic congregate?

e) Is there a place where nonspecialists on this topic congregate?

4. Try doing your search again using better vocabulary and/or sitespecific searches or by searching tags/categories on specific sites.

5. If you're still stumped, consider contacting the company via social software sites such as Twitter or Facebook or a support site such as Get Satisfaction. …

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