A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Free Internet at the Library - Keep It Movin'!

I generally don't use the computers at public libraries, but lots of folks do. The elderly are often there. Students. And the unemployed. It's a vital service to the community, but I think it can be a challenge to manage at times.

While working on Mission Matawan yesterday, I happened to tell one of the volunteers -- an unemployed patron of the Matawan Aberdeen Public Library -- about my blog and how I sometimes write about the library. I learned that lots of unemployed people used to gravitate to the Matawan library to use the free Internet in the morning for job searching, but fewer and fewer have been dropping in lately, stymied by some new software that the library installed on the machines. I'm told the software imposes a half-hour limit on use, while a job application can take an hour to complete. Library patrons might be in the middle of an app when they have to get off the PC. On the bright side, if no one is in line, the user can get up to two extensions on the time limit, for a total of an hour and a half continuous usage, but the unlucky ones have to cancel their applications right in the middle of the process. Plus, the software is said to be annoying as it flashes lots of alerts on the screen. The library staff told the unemployed patron that the software installation is an attempt to control use by high school students, who crowd the machines in the afternoon. This Mission Matawan volunteer asked me to mention the negative effect of the new software on morning patrons seeking work, in the hopes that the unemployed crowd could get longer time limits.

I suppose all local libraries are having to play King Solomon when it comes to allocating free use of the Internet. While a quiet affair, there can be arguments, cutting in line, pleading, and even bullying. (Just like the Raritan River bridges on the Garden State Parkway during the morning rush.) I saw firsthand the brief but sometimes emotional struggles that can develop between a library staffer and patron when I inadvertently sat in the Internet waiting area at Old Bridge Public Library a few weeks ago. And at Matawan, the reference librarian wears the hat of the Internet Tsar, warning users to sign in before sitting at a computer and telling folks their time is up. Librarians have certainly come a long way from "Shhhhhhhhhhh!"

Keep in mind that you can bring your laptop to the Matawan library and use their wi-fi system. That might help keep the 12 desktop computers free for those lacking a machine. Check out the library's resources page and look at the section labeled Wireless Hotspot for more information about wi-fi.

1 comment:

  1. During Mission Matawan this week a client brought up another interesting fact about how Social Services agencies are going to cause the library to have to flex a little on the computer time front. It seems that at least one federal agency, in order to cut costs, has eliminated mailing paper forms to clients. They are expected to complete applications on the web. This will undoubtedly require much assistance at the library end of the technology, as the client attempts to balance all of their paperwork from home with the computer and desktop space while trying to fill in the blanks. Further, if the client needs to print out instructions, some libraries charge as much as 15 cents to a quarter per page. It would be a great public service benefit if the library waived the time limits and fees for patrons truly needing these services. Until such time as Matawan and Aberdeen join the ranks of towns that provide free public internet access to their citizens, the library will be the primary benefactor.