Libraries of the Future

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By Steve Zalusky

The libraries of the future not only loan things out. They also give their guests something they can take with them - valuable skills they can keep forever and build on.

This is illustrated by libraries like those in the Orange County (Fla.) Library system.Orange County’s Technology and Education Center offers 1,200 technology classes each month at 15 locations. So far ahead of the curve is Orange County that it earned the ALA/Information Today, Inc. Library of the Future Award from the American Library Association.

In 2010, nearly 50,000 patrons participated in its technology training program. Classes are offered in English, Spanish and Haitian-Creole. Courses target job seekers and small business owners. Classes also focus on enhancement of basic life skills.

The small business classes are magnets for community members who plan to start their own businesses or wish to extend the reach of the ones they already own. They learn such skills as building a business plan, managing finances and accounting and developing a website.

Life skills classes range from teaching the basics of eBay to seniors to Internet classes that embrace all ages. They also give people tips on obtaining food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid. For those just trying to overcome the challenge of a new tablet PC or ebook reader, staff can help there too.

They can even walk you through Technology Petting Zoos with your new device.

The library also offers a Cloud Computing class to keep your digital life organized, as well as advice on EduGaming and tips on how to create Web, PC and Mac games in a game design program.

In addition to courses taught in traditional classrooms, Orange County Library System offers courses virtually, live and online, plus self-paced online classes and a rich array of online tutorials.

"The biggest growth that we have right now is in the computer classes," said Debbie Moss, assistant director of the Orange County Library System. "People certainly don't need extensive training. They need free training, even if it's about learning Facebook or how to photoshop their friend's wedding photos. It's knowledge that people need."

Moss said all 15 locations in the system have trainers - many have multiple trainers. In most locations, at least four hour-long classes are offered each day. "It's knowledge that people need. It's training that they need for today's world and today's problems," Moss said.

Certificates are given out for completion of the classes, she said. "We're finding people coming in are really interested in getting the certificate that says they completed all the Word classes, so that they can throw it in with their resume," she said.


At the end of every class, participants take a survey, which amounts to about 1,500 people each month. Three-quarters of them say they are taking the classes to make themselves more employable or improve their on-the-job skills, she said.

The library can claim many success stories. Adam Gilley was looking for work, but all the jobs that interested him required experience in Microsoft Access 2007, a database management program. Thanks to the library, he learned the program and within a few months won a job in the finance field.

Another participant was able to tweak her resume and find a job listing during one of the resume writing and online job search class. By the end of class, the company called her cell phone and set up an interview with her.”

One of the trainers, Glenda Castillo, said one of the students in her computer classes, Jeannie Roman, lost her job several months ago because she was "somewhat slow with technology. Jeannie didn't have the resources to take computer classes in college, so she came to our branch to take classes."

Castillo said Roman was "quite nervous about computers, fearing that she perhaps did not have the ability to learn this material."

Roman's revival began when she took a class in Computer Basics and gradually advanced to the point where she is about take a course in PowerPoint.

"Our classes have given her the confidence to finish her studies in college and get an even better job in the future," Castillo said.

Orange County is among the vanguard of libraries who are providing services that fit the lifestyle demands  of the digital age.

The Cedar Falls (Iowa) Public Library offers a computer class called "Facebook 'Fun'damentals. Participants are shown how to set up their page, add a picture and find friends and family.

And the Gary (Ind.) Public Library holds adult computer classes in Microsoft Word.

The Pleasant Grove Branch Library in Dallas has a job seekers resource center. This month, it had scheduled a job and life skills training session for teens, as well as U.S. citizenship classes and computer classes for seniors.

Interested in learning new skills to adapt to a rapidly changing future? All you need to do is visit your local library.

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