are turning to libraries with tech-fueled questions
about everything from e-readers to social media – and
librarians have the answers.
— Ridwa Yakob knew what libraries had: books.
she saw the Teen Tech Center at the Minneapolis Central
Library. This digital playground, which opened in 2013,
has rows of new computers, iPads, the latest video
equipment and even its own soundproof recording studio.
up, I used to be super into reading. That’s what I
thought libraries were for," said Yakob, 18, of
Minneapolis. Now she’s a member of the Teen Tech Squad
at the library, helping her peers with all sorts of
high-tech resources, learning as she goes. "It
gives me access to tools I don’t have at home."
You may not know it, but libraries have quietly become
community tech hubs where the digital tools go far
beyond computer terminals with free Internet. Across the
metro area, their offerings are expanding as libraries
help patrons tinker with 3-D printers, e-readers and
social media. A growing catalog of e-books and
e-magazines, combined with other online tools, extend
resources far beyond the library walls.
once masters of the card catalog, have learned to mine
information online, offering help with everything from
basic computer skills to Facebook and LinkedIn. When it
comes to e-readers, in particular, librarians have
become the go-to people for answers.
still teaching literacy. Now it’s digital
literacy," said Kim Johnson, manager of Anoka
County, Minn.’s Rum River Library.
patrons wouldn’t have it any other way.
the most basic level, library users value Internet
access almost as highly as books, according to a 2013
Pew Research Center study. Eighty percent of
library-goers surveyed said the ability to borrow books
was "very important." A nearly identical
amount said free Internet access also was a "very
important" library service.
library’s role as a tech connection really kicked into
gear during the recession, when job seekers needed to
brush up on tech skills, search online for jobs and get
help with résumés. Library staff members quickly
learned to help set up e-mail and LinkedIn accounts,
teach basics of Microsoft Word and Excel, and guide
patrons toward the most useful information online.
you were laid off in the last few years, you have to
apply for unemployment online," said Maureen
Gormley, information services manager for the Dakota
County, Minn., Libraries. "We’re the place to go
to learn that and basic skills."
the same time, e-books hit the virtual shelves. Patrons
started walking in with e-readers — and questions.
come and ask me for e-book help. They usually end up
with a little bit more," Anoka County library
services assistant Andrea Egbert said of the litany of
tech-related quandaries that library patrons bring to
her. Some walk in with new e-readers, still in the box,
unsure how to switch on the devices. Job seekers ask for
help formatting résumés. Others ask how to share
photos and videos online.
Egbert knows what to do. If not, well, there’s nothing
like a question to motivate a librarian to search for
all have that thirst for the hunt," she said.
most library staffs are happy to help with downloading
e-books, browsing the Internet and computer literacy,
there are limits to a librarian’s tech support
expertise. If you show up with a hardware problem —
your tablet won’t turn on or a screen is cracked —
the librarians will likely direct you elsewhere.
not the (Apple) Genius Bar. If somebody drops their iPad
in the bathtub, I can’t help you," said Ben
Trapskin, assistant director for Anoka County Libraries.
"We try to focus on how the technology interacts
with our resources."
some cases, technological advances mean less
face-to-face interaction at the library. Patrons can
download e-books without ever setting foot in their
local branch and students can get free homework help by
live-chatting with tutors on the library’s website.
than lamenting these changes, librarians like Bernie
Farrell see them as a way to expand access to
the library can do for you is not bound by bricks and
mortar," said Farrell, senior librarian at the
Minneapolis Central Library. "This size of the
unseen library is pretty immense."
Christenson of Eden Prairie, Minn., made such a
discovery after taking basic computer skills classes at
various Hennepin County libraries. Since then, she’s
used free online tutorials through the library to learn
about everything from Microsoft Excel to the Cloud.
"It gives you a start, the ability to learn on your
own," Christenson said.
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library can also be a place to explore technology that
is still rare in private homes. The Ramsey County,
Minn., library system bought a MakerBot 3-D printer two
years ago, primarily for use with teen programming. It
proved so popular that they’ve expanded 3-D printing
classes to adults and purchased two new MakerBots.
are products that are new and people are sort of
figuring out how to use them," said Marcus Lowry,
teen librarian for Ramsey County.
all of the technological advances, librarians say, there
will always be books.
Stripling, president of the American Library
Association, said there is still ample evidence that
people largely prefer reading the old-fashioned way, ink
not throwing away the relationships and the
conversations and the reading of printed books,"
Stripling said. "We are adding on and maybe
deepening the reading experience through