Monday, September 13, 2010

Computer Headaches Cured at the Library (sometimes)

By Anita

Late one chilly evening, a library patron sat perched over his laptop. The director didn’t notice him as she turned out the lights and locked the front door. Jarred by the sudden appearance of a disembodied head in the night, the director stopped short. Face lit by the computer screen glow, the patron looked spectral in the pitch black. In an instant, the director recognized him.

“Aren’t you cold,” she asked.

Huddled over his laptop, the young man said he was beginning to get chilled. He was, after all, sitting at a cement table in the front courtyard of the library. It was 9 p.m.

Taking advantage of the free WiFi, the patron had lost track of time outside his neighborhood library. He soon folded up his laptop and headed down the street to his Ford City home.

WiFi is available at Ford City Library. It’s one of many free or inexpensive technology services public libraries make available to the public.

Public computer use, with many software applications and Internet capability is free as well. Library membership isn’t generally required to use public-access computers, but you will be asked to read and follow the rules and policies.

As with the average citizen, libraries find technology to be a timesaver. When someone needs a government form – the FAFSA for student aid or a Schedule B for tax purposes, the ease of downloading from the Internet can’t be beat. It’s a space saver, too. No more need for that 10-pound tome listing US zip codes. It’s all online – zip codes, area codes, legislators’ contact information. You name it, it’s there.

When it works right, and you know what you’re doing, technology is great. But, we all know there is a down side. So many things can go wrong. And, some days it feels like you’re the victim of an unrelenting technology conspiracy. Everything breaks or catches a virus or runs out of ink. Frustrated and in a pinch, you find yourself asking “what now?”

Public libraries, though challenged by technology, are generally a good place to turn. For a small fee, printing, copying and faxing can be done at the library. Flash drive access is typically available and some computers may accommodate CDs. At Ford City Library, we offer free scanning privileges.

While library staff members have varying levels of technical skills, patrons who are challenged by technology can generally find help at the library. For instruction, it may be necessary to schedule an appointment or register for a computer workshop. But, if you aren’t in a hurry and you visit during nonpeak hours, volunteers and staff can often assist in Web searches or setting up and using e-mail accounts.

Currently, the Ford City Public Library is matching teen tutors with adults eager to learn basic computer skills. Call the library for details or to sign up.

At a time when many Americans find themselves strapped for cash, the library’s free Internet access and cheap technical services are just the ticket.