Laptops in the Library: Expanding Access and Flexibility

Posted Mar 3, 2016

With the announcement that Shorewood Public Library and Friends will use Roundy’s and Metro Market’s $5,000 donation to purchase laptops for the Shorewood Public Library, you may be wondering why laptops are needed. The answer is: to promote literacy, access and service to library patrons.

Libraries of the twenty-first century look different in many ways than libraries of earlier times. In addition to reading and borrowing books, patrons work at computers, attend community events, participate in book clubs and borrow DVDs, CDs and computer games.

Computer access has become an important role for libraries across the country. By offering computers to patrons, libraries help people who do not own computers or do not have internet access at home. Being adept at using the computer is critical in today’s world because more and more jobs require computer skills. Students also need to access online content and submit work via computers. 

People who are not computer literate (15% of U.S. adults according to a Pew Research Center report ) are disproportionately people who are of color, low income, older than 50, and with less than a college education. Lack of computer access or skills can become a barrier to employment and public services. 

At Shorewood, patrons use computers for research, job searches, school work, social media access and browsing. All patrons must agree to Shorewood Library Internet Use Policy. The demand for our current computers - including desktop PCs and available laptops - outpaces our current resources. The two public access laptops the library currently offers are out of date; despite efforts to keep software up to date, the library has been hindered by old hardware.

In addition, offering laptops is one more way that all patrons can read at the library. According to Jean Gurney, a member of the Shorewood Library Board of Trustees and its liaison to the Friends, “Reading on a laptop is just as much ‘reading’ as reading a book. And - on a computer - language can be changed, programs can be changed, content can be changed, functions can be changed. Laptops have earned their place in the library.”

What’s more, Rachel Collins, the new director of the Library, has seen the benefits of the laptops. Rachel noted that the Milwaukee East Branch, where she was manager, has 29 laptops that circulate within the library and that they are in constant use. The laptops, she said, give patrons a lot more flexibility than desktops. For example, someone can read for pleasure in a comfortable chair, or parents can search the Internet or answer email in the Children’s Room while their children are engaged in an activity.

Watch for the new laptops, with stickers noting Roundy’s donations, to be available for patron use by May 1.

- Contributed by Friends of the Library Board Member Anne O’Meara, March 2016

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