Long Beach Public Library Foundation

Stories of the Library: Guest blog by LBPLF Board Director John Arcos

My stint as a volunteer computer guru at the Main Library has turned out to be both an opportunity to help folks navigate the Internet, as well as a quick refresher in Personal Interactions 101. The EIC, or Electronic Information Center, sits next to the Information Center for People with Disabilities (ICPD). Together they include 35 standard computer workstations as well as 10 workstations specially outfitted to help those who are visually or otherwise challenged. Patrons use the computers for online activities ranging from job searches and applications, to finding housing or legal assistance, to creating PowerPoint presentations for school assignments, and then, of course, discovering how to print whatever was created. The 45 total workstations are in high demand, especially in the late afternoon,  so the stream of help requests coming from users can become pretty constant.

A few weeks ago a patron approached the help desk.

“I’m trying to think of a dairy product.  It’s not milk but something like it.”

We went through the range of possibilities: yogurt, cream, half and half, ice cream, cheese, whey, curds. Even did a search on Wikipedia for “dairy,” but no joy. The following week comes, the patron is back, and the answer is revealed.

“Remember when you were trying to come up with a dairy product?” we asked. “What was it?”

And the response: “You remembered! It was soy milk.”

That was an excuse to get acquainted, and now we are on a first name basis. I still don’t know what became of soy milk, but that particular patron is online for at least a solid two hours every Friday afternoon.

Several months ago, a not-so-young lady, Mary, approached the help desk.  She’d been a fairly regular user for the past few weeks. It turned out she was writing an account of her experiences caught in a fire that swept through an area in Tennessee she’d been visiting. Found and sheltered by some friendly neighbors, Mary was writing a letter to the local newspaper about how grateful she was. Her written English was somewhat second language, keyboard skills came late in life, word processing skills even later, so the guru role was to help with the writing, and then the word processing.  When the document was done, I helped her to email her letter to the target newspaper. Then came the part so uniquely characteristic of online customer service interactions. After emailing the letter, Mary received a reply from the newspaper, “Thank you for your submission. We will be publishing your letter on…” with a date and issue number.  Fast forward to the date, and Mary came over to the help desk.

“Can you help me find my letter?”

“No problem,” says the confident EIC computer guru.

We walk over to her workstation and navigate to the newspaper website. The site provides 10 different links ranging from the classified ads to town news highlights, but no apparent way to read the current issue “letters received.” We spend five minutes wandering through the links when the gateway is revealed: “Newspaper Digital Edition.” We click on “Newspaper Digital Edition” and run into a paywall. The newspaper creators won’t let you read any digital content unless you have an account. Did the email back to Mary thanking her for contributing to the content include a link so she could see what she had written? Of course not. The stymied computer guru apologizes to Mary and takes the matter back to the help desk for further study.

Some time later and a tunnel through the paywall is discovered. The newspaper site allows users to set up a 30 day trial account. With the 30 day trial account comes access to the “Newspaper Digital Edition.” No problem setting up the trial account, and now we can actually read the newspaper! Back in the “letters received” is Mary’s submission. Smiles all around.

The guru’s job is done.


– John Arcos is one of the LBPL Foundation’s newest Board Members. He volunteers his time as a “computer guru” at the Main Library’s computer center and at the Information Center for People with Disabilities.