By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service
LANSING — As online technology has crept into everyday life and education, free public access to computers and internet has become an important attraction of public libraries.
“There’s a divide between families that have technology available and those who don’t,” said Gail Madziar, director of Michigan Association of Libraries. “If you’re a student that needs to do their homework, sometimes a library is the only place that you have to access information in a safe place.”
Many libraries serving rural populations report significant demand for their online services. For instance, internet services at the Presque Isle district libraries were accessed over 14,000 times in 2017. The county has a population of 13,000.
“We have internet access at all five of our locations,” said Amber Clement, director of Presque Isle District Library. “Besides us as a library, McDonald’s is the next best bet for free internet.”
One big use of the service is by high school students who are dual-enrolled with Alpena Community College, which requires internet access.
“A lot of these kids live out in rural areas without internet access and so they rely on either the school or the library to provide that,” Clement said.
On the other side of the state, more of Grand Traverse County has access to broadband internet than in Presque Isle County, but the Traverse Area District LIbraries still see use of its internet.
The district’s six libraries have recorded 3,477 users spending 11,289 hours on library computers this year.
Libraries also provide a basic technology education.
The district sees a large turnout for technology information classes, said Brice Bush, adult services coordinator for Traverse Area District Libraries.
“We’re working on creating a senior summer camp series designed for older patrons,” Bush said. “The programs would be focused on social media literacy and decoding your device. … Anyone is welcome to bring the technology you use to the session and we’ll be there to help.”
Involving the community can be done in other ways as well. In Alpena, the focus of Tinker Tuesdays is less on education and more on experimentation.
Tinker Tuesdays at Alpena Public Library are an opportunity for students and adults to play with new technologies.
“Kids are coming in with their parents, and pretty soon their parents become interested and start participating,” said Nancy Mousseau, technology specialist for Alpena Public Libraries.
“We have a 3-D printer and 3-D printing pens, along with low-tech projects as well like Legos and K’nex.”
In Traverse City, Bush is committed to opening the tech world to patrons.
“Public libraries are staying relevant in the technological world we’re living in by the dedicated free access to computers and internet connection,” Bush said.
By CASEY HULL