Currently, I work for the Paschalville neighborhood library and most of my time is spent as a Digital Resource Specialist helping job-seekers write resumes and apply for jobs. A lot of what I do in this position is help patrons navigate web sites and fill out forms for employment opportunities. One of the most common questions I receive is, “What do I fill in this box?” and the empty space is only asking for a name, address or something similar. After filling out a couple of applications the patrons usually get the gist of what these employers want from them and I can go back to drinking coffee.
Overall, it’s fun to see people who have limited exposure to computers and the Internet learn how these systems work, but it’s also disconcerting to see that initial hesitation/apprehension/fear of forms. These forms are intimidating, and on top of that, job searching is stressful! But, why are forms scary? Is it the finality of ink? Is it the person or institution you’re submitting to? Is it a lack of self-confidence?
In addition to my role as a Digital Resource Specialist I also assist the awesome Kenny with the Maker program out of Paschalville. You probably know by now that Maker Jawn works with teens, adolescents and young children, so between Job Readiness and Maker Jawn I have gotten to know several generations of our Paschalville residents. On a recent Thursday, while this idea of forms, job seekers and apprehension was bouncing around in my head, Kenny held a maker session. At this event a young Maker asked me to help them fill out a library card application. I said, “Sure, of course!” and helped them along the way.
We grabbed the form and started completing it, but this particular Maker kept asking me, “what do I write here?” and “what does this mean?” and other questions about the personal information asked of them while requesting a library card. Things like their address and birthday were puzzling and I realized I was witnessing the same thing happen to a 12 year-old that happens to a 45 year-old that happens to any job seeker. Then, I thought about our Maker program — participants might be afraid to use a soldering iron, or they might require the acknowledgement of their Maker Mentor before completing a task. So many of us seem afraid of things until we learn otherwise or are given permission to fail. We often hesitate instead of jumping in.
There is a confidence that does not exist when it comes to these standardized forms and these little projects we run as Makers. What if I make a mistake? What if I read the question wrong? What if I get in trouble for doing something incorrectly?
I think this feeling of intimidation is something worth considering. I mean, if people don’t feel comfortable filling out forms at the library — the Library — the place known for its public service and its commitment to helping people learn and educate themselves, then there has to be something wrong with the concept in general and I wonder what we might be able to do to address the situation. One exciting prospect is the inter-generational Maker programming Maker Jawn is about to start. As you may have heard, Maker Jawn and the Free Library of Philadelphia recently received an IMLS grant to fund this new programming in several North Philadelphia neighborhood libraries. This is an exciting time for us and we are looking forward to introducing even more people to the joys of making and tinkering, but aside from having fun with technology there is an opportunity for Maker Jawn to facilitate a sort of secondary informal learning environment. Imagine if a member of the community, while tinkering with a robot or computer program, would have helped the young Maker fill out their library card application, or if that Maker helped the job seeker navigate a webpage. There’s a connection here, and I think over the next several years Maker Jawn will be discovering just how important building the bridge between generations is.