Library programs help community get high tech

Jessica Sasseen

Barbara Keith squinted her eyes at the gently glowing screen. She raised her fingers to the keyboard and softly punched one key at a time.

She paused with a puzzled look, scratched her head, then glanced over at her daughter Jennifer’s screen. She tried to whisper quietly over the clicking of the computer keys.

“Google? What’s Google?” she asked.

Jennifer Keith smiled and began to explain, patiently.

The two grown women were taking part in a free Internet workshop researching antiques and collectibles hosted by University Libraries and BellSouth, as part of the BellSouth Community Internet Workshop Program.

The goal of the program is to provide an outlet for the community to learn Internet navigation skills free of cost. Since the first workshop held in February 1997, workshops in the series have been hosted on a wide variety of topics including genealogy, climate and travel.

Most of the program leaders are Western faculty and staff. Participants in the series vary in ages and backgrounds and class size ranges from five to 18 people.

“The idea is that we have a lot of specialized knowledge here at the University that we can share with the public at large,” said Bryan Carson, interim program coordinator. “With the Community Internet Program, our purpose is to create an informed, literate population.”

The Keiths are casual antique collectors and chose to participate in the program to gain an idea of how to research their hobby on the web.

“They just keep buying me computers,” said Barbara Keith, “and I must learn to use them.”

The “Antiques and Collectables” segment of the workshop program was instructed by Sandy Staebell, registrar and collections curator of the Kentucky Museum.

“Hopefully his program gives people ideas of how to use the Internet for things outside their daily environment,” Staebell said. “There are a lot of tools available to help people find the information they need. We wanted to give people a starting place and let them leave with the knowledge that they could go home and use some of this information.”

The computers used at the South Campus for the Community Internet Workshop Program are considered more than research tools; they are human bonds according to Haiwang Yuan, Web Site and Virtual Library Coordinator.

“We establish a bond, a human bond between the library and community members,” Yuan said. “And also developed a bond between the library and faculty on campus. We learn a lot from them, and they know a lot about us. With more understanding our service will be better.”

According to Michael Binder, Dean of Libraries and Kentucky Museum, when this program was presented to the American Library Association, it was very well received. He added there was a great interest in the collaboration between the community, libraries and sponsorships.

“We are a leader among academic libraries,” Carson said, “so it’s no surprise to be a leader at teaching the web.”

The program is designed to reach anyone in the community who is interested in learning about the Internet.

“The best aspect (of this program) is to provide a clear awareness of our interest . in helping the community understand what resources are available on the Internet, develop advanced searching techniques for accessing them and help the community make better use of the Internet resources,” Binder said. “Students can also get involved by attending and giving us input on their needs.”

Reach Jessica Sasseen at [email protected]