Great Story: Eliminating the FEAR FACTOR

Great Stories are written by Guiding Ohio Online AmeriCorps Members about their service.

Being an AmeriCorps Digital Education Specialist has its challenges. Some days there are too many appointments, and on other days you couldn't pay a patron to stop by. But in the end it all balances out. That's because—regardless of the specific problem they're having—it's the same story but with different faces. They're afraid to "try" this or that. Fear has gripped them and they find themselves in the library looking for help. 

But I don't it mind at all; that's why I'm here. I love the idea of helping them find simple solutions to problems that are gigantic to them. Sometimes it's just a matter of a click, and at others, its learning things from scratch. 

When I conduct workshops, I like to start with a slide that states, "YOU CAN'T BREAK IT!!!" In a single slide I convince the fearful to take a chance and learn something new. Once they know they can't break it, I show them a second slide. This one states, "YOU CAN'T HURT IT!" Now I have their attention and can proceed with the workshop. 

My first encounter with the FEAR FACTOR came when 18 people registered for a workshop for Tech Savvy Seniors (I have 8 computers). They wanted to learn but were afraid they were too old to learn. And yet they were here. The workshop went smoothly, even under those circumstances. It resulted in lots of one-on-one appointments and attendees anxious for other workshops. They learned a lot from me and I learned a lot from them. I learned that:

  • People fear the unknown and, unless guided, will maintain that fear
  • Guiding people from darkness to light has great rewards for both parties
  • No one wants to be in the dark (AmeriCorps is their "light")
  • Be prepared to repeat yourself over and over and over again
  • An "ah ha" smile (meaning "I got it") says more than a thousand words
  • Apply K.I.S.S. (Keep It Short and Simple)
  • Learning new things can be fun!

The real memory-makers are the one-on-one patrons. One such case is the recent 84 year old who came in with a 15-inch Mac. He had at least 25 icons on his dock and more than 30 items on his desktop. He didn't know what anything was or how it got there. He didn't do much with the computer (he has a Dell desktop he uses also) but wanted to learn. We set up a series of appointments after I cleaned up his dock and desktop. He is now merrily enjoying his Mac.


Another great memory comes from a lady who attended a digital photography workshop and had more than 3,000 photos on her phone. I suggested that she schedule a one-on-one with me and purchase a flash drive to use at our meeting. In an hour, we had everything downloaded and organized enough for her to complete the process at home. 

Overdrive is a big challenge for lots of patrons, whether 18 or 80. It gets really frustrating when you can't open the book you just downloaded, so I spend lots of time on that feature. Then there was the patron who drove 20 miles to have me help her download her book on her iPod, only to find out that she couldn't. I felt bad because what we did could have been accomplished over the phone. She had to download it to a computer, phone or tablet and then transfer it via iTunes. 


One of my personal favorites is the Mac Circle, a group of Mac users who meet with me monthly. They are overjoyed to have someone to teach them the ins and outs of this system. It’s a small and intimate group so they can bring their specific questions and find the answers they need. 


Lastly, I enjoy working with the 86-year old lady who is learning the keyboard. She brings her grandson to story hour every Tuesday, then runs upstairs to practice on the computer for 40 minutes. She's being coming for two months now and still practices the same keys each week. I think its darling. Last week she asked me about what computer she should buy. I recommended two of them, looked them up at both Staples and Best Buy, and printed off both pages for her. I strongly recommended that she take her grandson with her to be sure she'd get the right thing, and told her to only purchase a software package as an extra. She came back the next week with her computer still in the box, just to let me know how much she appreciated my help. 


It's a very humbling feeling knowing that I can provide "light" to those in darkness. And knowing that this community is embracing the digital revolution is very rewarding. As we continue to move forward, it's my hope that Ohio will continue to be guided online for years to come. 


Sandee Hemphill