By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
In spite of Madison County having one of the fastest-aging populations in Florida, an average of maybe three senior citizens per week use the Madison Public Library’s computer facilities. The library doesn’t offer computer classes as such, said Library Branch Manager April Brooks, “but we do offer one-on-one training if they need it.”
A library staff member will help anyone who asks for assistance, whether it’s just finding and getting to the right website, or going through the steps do a basic web search, all the way up to showing the person how to set up an e-mail or facebook page. The staff will be happy to explain such things as how to create passwords, but when it comes to actually doing it, “we have to walk away,” said Brooks. When it comes to creating and entering passwords or other personal information, the library patron is on his or her own.
The library has seven sit-down stations with one-hour time limits, unless no one else is waiting to use a computer. There are also two stand-up stations for email only, with a 15-minute time limit.
According to Brooks, the majority of the computer users at the Madison Library are teenagers up to about the thirty-somethings. The seniors who do come by seem pretty knowledgeable about computers already, and most of them come by to check their email.
In the much smaller community of Lee, there’s a much higher level of interest among seniors in the town library’s computers. Mary Dye of the Lee Public Library says that around five or six senior citizens come in regularly every week to check their email, and they also do the facebook page to keep up with their grandchildren. The library allows computer users up to an hour, but most of them take about thirty minutes or less.
“We have had some people ask about computer classes,” said Dye. So far, she estimates about four seniors have inquired, which is more than enough for one class, if everyone is to get sufficient individual attention. She has even been thinking about how to word the flyers she might put up to find out if even more seniors might be interested, and to find out which day of the week would work best.
If they do go ahead with classes, she said, it will be after the summer break is over, the kids are back in school, and things have slowed down a little. “We’re giving it some serious consideration.”
As for the Greenville Public Library , Michelle Holbrook says, “we have some (seniors), I wouldn’t say a lot.” Many seniors come in to check out books, but Holbrook estimates that two, or maybe three of them will use the six public internet computer stations for social media and entertainment. When it comes to those who need to access government services online, the numbers increase. In fact, the library has a laptop, purchased with grant money, that is dedicated to that very purpose, so a computer venue is always available for seniors who need access to e-government.
Otherwise, “our (computer) patronage is mostly kids doing facebook to keep up with their friends,” said Holbrook, who believes most seniors in the Greenville area probably have a computer at home.
Mattie Hackle, Activities Director of the Madison Nursing Center says that only one or two of the residents use the computer in the activities center, and normally it’s just to play games. For staying in touch with friends and family, it’s still mainly letters and phone calls. However, she thinks interest might pick up a little when the new computer is installed in the day room, which is a little more accessible. It will definitely pick up further down the road, she says, when younger generations of residents arrive, those who are more used to having electronic media available to stay in touch with friends and grandchildren.
At the Madison Senior Center, however, where elders are used to various classes and lectures being offered on a variety of topics, there is a computer lab/library set up in a large airy room with windows looking out on a rural roadway and green fields beyond. Bookshelves offering fiction and non-fiction line the walls, alongside ten computer stations. Seniors can come in anytime during the Center’s regular hours to find a favorite book, check their email or surf the web.
In this pleasant room, Gianni Jackson teaches a computer class every Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. and reckons that he presently has about 20 students altogether. Not all of them show up at once, though, and according to one of the more regular students, Jessica Wilson, “people pop in and pop out all the time,” or simply may not be able to come every week because of doctor’s appointments and so forth. Last Thursday, Jackson himself had a doctor’s appointment, so the computer class had been canceled, but Wilson was there to check her email and talk enthusiastically about the things Jackson teaches her and her fellow students – how to log in, set up email accounts, or use search engines to find information on the web. He also has practice sessions where the class sends him emails and does research using Google and other search engines. “He has us go in (to websites) and bring stuff out,” said Wilson with a grin.
Marianne Graves, 58, who works as an administrator at the Center, pointed out that most of today’s seniors had already retired by the time the new computer technology started coming out. “When you think about it, our generation was the first to sort of scoot in with using computers at work.” For the seniors who come to the Center, though, it’s mostly a whole new frontier, but it’s one they seem quite happy to explore and see what they can discover.Besides, it’s a great way to stay in touch with the grandkids.