More than 300 individuals each month use the library to sharpen or to learn computer skills. For Kay Coward and her husband, Terry, it’s a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B.
Kay has been using a computer for years, but her husband has not. The couple was motivated to start attending our computer training classes so that “he won’t mess up my machine,” Kay said.
With the library’s help, he’s now computer literate, he got his own email address (he was just using his wife’s) and now he even has his own laptop. He wanted something that “would work a little faster,” she said.
The library offers 30 to 45 classes each month. Kay has signed up for some of the more advanced classes, including Word: Graphics (so she can “make documents look more professional”) and Word: Mail Merge & Mailing Labels, along with Editing Digital Photos (see list of all computer classes).
“I went to a class today, and I learned three things that made me say ‘yes! This is great,’” she said. “The fact that these classes are free is extremely valuable for the quality of teachers. The instructors are clear. They don’t make you feel stupid.”
The Topeka couple are in their 60s. Trainers Kate Hughes and Becky Hinton say a lot of retired folks attend the classes, but there are also those who want to upgrade their job skills or just keep up with their children. The trainers say they sometimes even get home schoolers.
“It’s becoming more and more important on all jobs to be computer literate. And it’s important in day-to-day life,” Kate said.
From doing your taxes to filling out a job application, being able to operate a computer is now the rule instead of the exception.
“It’s frustrating for some who are looking for a stocking-type job, and they’ve never used a computer,” Kate said.
She and Becky teach the majority of the library’s computer classes and say there are many rewards that come with the territory.
“We love it when they call us and cancel a class they signed up for because they got a job,” Becky said.
If it’s not a job, then it’s the getting a grandma using Facebook so she can see pictures of her grandchildren or even teaching her how to Skype video chat.
“It’s rewarding to watch someone download a free eBook onto their new Kindle for the first time,” Kate said.
“One of the things I hear most often is that we go at a pace that they like,” Becky said. “We have the most introductory classes in the county.”
Beyond the basics like, Internet Introduction and Taming Your Mouse, students find value in classes like Do You Hulu? and Apple iPad for Beginners. The offerings range, but it’s all free and people can take the same class as many times as they like.
“Knowing that helps the customer relax. A large part of what we do is help them relax,” Kate said.
While Kate and Becky are mostly to credit, part of that is the physical space itself. The learning takes place in the Computer Training Center, a private room in the library that is outfitted with 16 computers as well as two large monitors attached to the trainer’s computer for in-class demos.
That’s also where drop-in classes are offered. People come and go as they please during Drop-In, offered once or twice a week. The trainers see any number of computer issues, from how to list something on Craigslist or to how to convert a Word document into a pdf. People sometimes bring in their smartphones, and they even try to troubleshoot basic functions or preferences.
“We consider what we do another form of literacy.”
Businesses send their employees to the library on work time to troubleshoot a problem or learn a software system, like Excel Spreadsheets. The trainers even offer special classes on request. Accommodations can be made depending on the size of the class, the time needed and software demands.
About the Trainers:
Becky used the very first computer the library ever purchased. It was a 1981 IBM PC. Shortly thereafter she started training the staff on computers. In 1999, the library started offering public computer training and she’s been doing it ever since.
Kate is a computer native and she’s been training the public on using computers for five years. Her specialty is literacy, learning styles and staying up on current trends and the latest versions of software or browsers.