By MICHELE McDONALD/Montana State News
Hardback books neatly line the shelves near the Computer Services Desk at the Bozeman Public Library. Behind the desk sits Pam Henley, whose job is to help individuals interested in the technological services offered by the library.
Henley, a graduate of the University of Wyoming and the University of Oklahoma, serves as a technology assistant at the Bozeman Public Library. According to Henley, she started her current career when she and her family returned to Bozeman after living in Japan, Korea and Germany as her husband served in the U.S. Air Force.
While traveling abroad, Henley said she accumulated experience in elementary school libraries which were located on U.S. Air Force bases. According to Henley, public libraries were difficult to find in the nations she visited.
“I never saw a library when I was overseas,” said Henley. “I lived off the base area, so I saw a lot of the economical part of the country. But I never once saw a public library.”
Although libraries did not seem to be numerous, Henley said technological advances overseas surpassed those in the United States. Technology from Japan and Germany always seemed advanced and people in Korea had cell phones before they were popular in the United States, so Henley became comfortable with new technology.
When she returned to Bozeman, Henley said she began her career at the public library working with children.
When technology started to be introduced and more hours became available, Henley said she began her work as a technology assistant. This was the beginning of a defining journey of technological discovery.
“I was not afraid to push buttons. I wanted to find out what happens. I was not worried,” said Henley.
Since then, Henley said she has devoted her time to discovering more about technology and the advances libraries have undergone.
“Over the years, technology has changed and what you can check out at the library has changed. You used to be able to check out artwork or even a cake pan,” said Henley.
Today, the library lets Bozeman residents borrow laptops, movies and audiobooks, according to Henley.
As new technology has emerged, books have become available on electronic e-readers, tablets and phones. Henley said the Bozeman Public Library provides a few technological devices to employees like her to make sure they are familiar with them and are capable of helping others with specific questions.
Henley said she greatly enjoys exploring new technology. One of her favorite discoveries has been her Nook, which she now regularly uses to read books.
“It makes me learn new stuff and gives me the opportunity to try new stuff that I wouldn’t possibly see at home and on my own,” said Henley.
Scott Blackwell, one of Henley’s co-workers at the Bozeman Public Library, said he has noticed her aptitude with new library devices. He said her ability and her pleasant personality make her a valuable employee.
“I’m amazed by how she effortlessly does things. She is an upbeat and pleasant person to be around. She knows the ins and outs of everything. It is definitely hard to stump her,” said Blackwell.
Despite what she sees as the advantages of technology, Henley said she still considers some of the advances which have been made unfair to certain segments of the population.
“They are not handicap accessible. You have members of the library that are blind, and e-books or tablets aren’t able to use a voice generator. It leads to a case of discrimination,” said Henley.
Henley also said that the older generation often struggles to understand new and advanced forms of library technology. Henley takes the time to sit down with confused technology users to describe specific devices one on one.
“I’m not a tech person always. Pam is great to work with. She doesn’t get flustered. She stays calm about computer problems, which keeps everyone else calm,” said Mary Braun, a co-worker of Henley.
Henley said she is worried librarians will soon have to teach the younger generation how to use indexes, alphabetize books, search for words in the dictionary and write legibly as well. Technology makes it easy to avoid developing such skills.
“Today, the technology around does it all for you,” said Henley.
Despite technology’s faults, Henley said she is excited about new advances and wishes the Bozeman Public Library would provide funds for new equipment.
“I would think about going from a desktop computer to laptops or iPads. Being able to go mobile and go to people that need help, because you don’t know who needs help and who doesn’t. People are being self-sufficient these days; we are just waiting to find someone to help. It would be much easier to be mobile and show people how to find information online or sign up for a library card on the library’s website,” said Henley.
As technology continues to improve, Henley said she believes books will remain relevant for the foreseeable future. New devices simply provide a new option for interested users.
“Books will be around for a long time. Some people can’t afford a tablet or e-reader. But you have choices and options for enjoying a good book,” said Henley.
– Edited by Nathan Voeller