Public libraries have long been an equalizer for finding free information regardless of social status or income, a role that continues with today’s expanding technology.
“The library’s primary role has always been this: access. Whether it was to access stone tablet, scroll, book, website, or a romance novel on an iPad, the library’s role hasn’t changed,” said Pekin Public Library Director Jeff Brooks.
The Pekin library launched its public internet lab in 1997 with six computers. Brooks, who had just joined the staff then, and a few volunteers immediately began teaching “introduction to the internet” classes.
“Libraries set up PC labs connected to the internet and we began talking about the growing digital divide between the technology ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ We were focused on providing internet access to families who couldn’t afford the computer and internet hookup in their homes,” Brooks recalled.
“Our classes continue, and in recent years we have found our Tech Tuesdays to be particularly helpful for customers needing one-on-one technology help with whatever device they bring in. Seniors make up the majority of our participants,” he added.
As smartphones and tablets became more accessible, library staff found patrons asking for help with their specific devices.
“To someone with a new device, the choices leading to good information are often not clearly laid out. Seniors, in particular, find themselves frustrated by being so close to joining their families, friends, and communities online, but lack the media literacy skills to begin. So, again, we are here to help reduce the barriers to access by teaching our patrons how to participate in e-society and social networks, and how to evaluate the information they find,” Brooks said.
The Morton Public Library and Fondulac District Library in East Peoria also offer opportunities for individual instruction on tech devices, and the Washington Public Library offers drop-in assistance for navigating ebooks.
The Miller Senior Center in Pekin has a free computer lab with nine computers open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and offers individual tutoring on how to use technology including computers, smart phones and tablets for $25 per hour.
“I think seniors are becoming more comfortable with technology because they have to, since our society really revolves around that now,” said Alisha Dault, Miller Center administrator.
“I think the biggest obstacle for most seniors is just a general fear of technology and taking that first step to learn about it,” said Dave Johnson, one of the Miller Center’s computer instructors. “As they become more adventurous, they tend to find their own tutors — maybe a 6-year-old grandchild — who can show them things.”
That was true for octogenarian Ethel Noonan.
“My niece’s 11-year-old daughter put me on Facebook and showed me how to use it,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d say I’m computer savvy, but I’m on Facebook on my phone, and I’m on Instagram.”
The Miller Center has a computer club that meets on the third Monday of each month. For more information about the club or to set up a one-on-one tutoring session, call the Miller Center at (309) 346-5210.
Pekin Public Library offers Tech Tuesdays during which the public can make an appointment for a 30-minute one-on-one session between 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. For more information, call the library at (309) 347-7111.
Fondulac District Library offers one-on-one tech help for devices each Thursday evening. To make an appointment, call (309) 699-3917.
Morton Public Library will be offering classes on a variety of technology topics this fall and currently offers Tech Times in which the public can make individual appointments with a technology trainer. For more information, call the library at (309) 263-2200.