New library computers help job seekers

Published 9:35 pm Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lifestyles & Features Editor

Staff members and patrons at BHM Regional Library are celebrating Christmas in May with the arrival of new computers and monitors.
And Information Technology Librarian Carolyn Burke is like a youngster, delving into boxes to see what “Santa” has delivered.
“Look at all this great new stuff,” Burke said. “I am thrilled that we have all these new computers for our patrons.”
The equipment was purchased with a $42,900 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Opportunity Online hardware grant program, according to BHM Regional Library Director M.J. Carbo. The program helps public libraries provide free, high-quality access to computer workstations. Libraries that qualify for the grant must also obtain local funding to demonstrate community support for computer upgrades.
“Adding our local match from the counties to the grant funds gave us a total of $57,200 for the entire project,” Carbo said. “This grant enabled us to purchase 28 new computers and 37 new monitors to replace our old equipment.”
While staff members are excited about the purchases, the patrons will benefit most.
“Over the past year, people have been pouring in unprecedented numbers to use all of the library’s resources, but particularly the Internet,” Carbo said. “We’ve seen a 30 to 50 percent increase in library use over the whole library system. At a couple of branches — Washington and Aurora — Internet use has actually doubled.”
The economy has had a big impact on library use, with displaced workers coming in to prepare online job applications and check job availability, Carbo said.
“They’re using library resources to get themselves out of the holes that have been dug for them,” Carbo said. “This is helping them put their lives together again.”
State-sponsored workshops have prepared library employees to better assist patrons re-entering the work force, she added.
BHM Library — which serves patrons in Beaufort, Hyde and Martin counties — operates eight branch facilities. In addition to Washington and Aurora, the branches are located in Bath, Belhaven, Swan Quarter, Ocracoke, Robersonville and Williamston.
Burke is presently preparing computers for each branch, and she said she’s looking forward to delivering the equipment. The computers will replace outdated models currently in use.
“Our computers are old. Some of them are nine years old, at least,” Carbo said. “A lot of them are at least four years old, and they just can’t handle all the material coming in.”
BHM Regional Library has a system in place to ensure everyone gets a turn using the computers, Carbo said. Usually the use is limited to 30 minutes, unless no one else is waiting — then it can be increased to up to a hour. Staff members encourage patrons to make arrangements if they need a computer for longer periods of time, such as for completing a special project or taking an exam online.
The new computers will hopefully help take the bite out of a struggling economy.
“Thousands of people are able to improve their education, find jobs, access e-government services and contribute to their communities, thanks to the BHM Regional Library,” Carbo said. “With over 30 percent of our local residents still lacking Internet access at home, public libraries are a critical link to technology for many who cannot afford these services on their own.”