A ubiquitous feature of the traditional public library is its large reference section, stocked with encyclopedias, dictionaries, government documents and other items too large or expensive to loan out.
You might be surprised, then, to see our reference section, which now consists of a measly half-dozen items: 2012 Electrical Codes and related items (four volumes), 2013 Criminal Code and a copy of The Limits of Sanity, a rare volume detailing the 1970 murders in West Creston.
In a word, the world changed. Wikipedia has demolished the encyclopedia business, spell check and online dictionaries have rendered print dictionaries obsolete, and government information is freely accessible online 24 hours a day.
Some of you may mourn the loss of these relics of yesteryear. Personally, I love books, and have stubbornly resisted acquiring an e-reader, but as more and more authors turn to publishing e-book-only editions while publishers struggle to make a profit, I can see the writing on the wall. But I can’t remember the last time I looked up a word in a print dictionary, or turned to an encyclopedia for information. Some things really are easier online.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same access to the Internet, and a large part of the population — in particular, seniors and the economically disadvantaged — is falling behind. As a public library, it is an important part of our mandate to address this so-called “digital divide”, and to help those who need some guidance in these changing times.
Every Saturday morning from 10 a.m.-12 p.m., the library offers one-on-one computer assistance from our resident technical guru, Andrew Feltham. Andrew will take on all questions, from how to hold a mouse to how to download e-books.
Andrew was recently joined by a Community Access Program youth intern, Ian MacKay, who is available most days after school to assist you with your technical needs. Ian is also working on a unique project called Tech Connect, which involves matching local seniors with computer savvy youth from Prince Charles Secondary School.
All of our staff is capable and willing to help with common computer tasks — printing government forms, basic Internet searching, word processing and so forth. If you need assistance, all you need to do is ask.
The library offers nine public Internet stations equipped with Microsoft Office, along with three iPads for public use. We also offer Wi-Fi and electrical outlets for recharging your devices throughout the library, and 24 hour a day Wi-Fi outside the library. You can make free local calls from our office phone, and keep in touch with relatives across the world through Skype in the comfort of a private office. We can even help you digitize your record or VHS collection. All of this is free of charge, and does not require a library card.
Of course, if all you really want is a good old fashioned dictionary to look up a word, we can help you there too: 423 in our non-fiction section. And you can take it home with you.
Aaron Francis is the chief librarian at the Creston and District Public Library.