Library leaders take tech to the next level

Sessions help older adults navigate today's technology

Library assistant Sharon Young

Holiday seasons can be filled with piles of paper books, or lists on an e-reader, and the local library has helpful programs to keep the older set tech-savvy. The Greater Victoria Public Library branch-wide offers free computer classes in the fall, winter and spring. Year-round they offer a One-on-One: Getting Started with Computers & eReaders program.

In Oak Bay the program is offered twice a week, and among the instructors is library assistant Sharon Young, who says most of her customers are of a certain age.

One of the library staff, whoever is offering the one-on-one session the next day, calls ahead to suss out the situation, said Sarah Isbister, public services librarian. “We do remind them to charge the device and do any updates,” Isbister said.

Then they cram all the info they can into the 30-minute session.

“Sometimes the dreams are pretty big,” said Young. “I haven’t had anyone under 50, most are 65 and over,” Young said. “It’s to help people bridge into the new technology.”

Topics range from reading the local paper to looking up repair times to avoid being ripped off when getting work done to printing sheet music for later enjoyment.

“There are people who really want to do books and that’s why they’re here,” Young said. “And there are those who skipped computers. It is literally learning a new language.”

They’ll go over computer, mouse and keyboard basics; setting up email and email basics; internet basics and beyond; Microsoft Word; using the web site, catalogue and eResources; using the Cypress Resume program; and getting started with digital collections on a client’s eReader or other device.

“We could offer these twice a day every day and always have them full,” said Isbister, adding they’re offered across the GVPL twice a week.

In a typical session, Young said she’ll explain the cloud, something she finds a younger generation doesn’t necessarily actually understand either, before moving on to how to use such a server.

“A whole new learning and reading opportunity was opened up for me,” an Oak Bay client said in a survey the day following a session with Young. “I learned which programs and apps to use and how the navigate the GVPL internet site. I really appreciate that the library offers this program. I wish I had known about it earlier.”

While staff can’t cover technical support for a personal electronic device or computer and topics involving personal information such as online banking or credit card transactions, they will point a library-user in the right direction and offer resources for those types of programs in the community. They work often with the Monterey Centre next door.

“What I want (clients) to take away is it can be done,” Young said, adding if they know it can be done, they can even phone in and describe the issue.

Staff answer many phone questions a week as well. Isbister got a fairly clear but a little echoey phone call one day from a fellow seeking help.

“I could help him download his book from Thailand,” she said

That’s a key component of learning this “new language,” the ability to sit on a ferry, get a book recommendation, get on a phone or tablet and add it to a list or even download it that minute.

Young has worked in libraries since the 1970s and has seen the readership change as dramatically as the collections over the decades.  “This seniors group is very active, very smart and it’s very diverse so they have diverse needs,” Young said. “Libraries are not just buildings anymore.”

She deals with those “fragile” with newer technology and those who learned to navigate and are looking to move on to other resources. “You have people who don’t know how to use a mouse, to those quite elderly who have an iPad and are more advanced,” Isbister said.

For those who don’t own the hardware, the library offers a Nexus 7 on loan to see if you prefer a tablet format, or are ready to move up from an e-reader. “More often now someone’s coming in to download the app,” Isbister said. “We still have tons of people just stopping in for a quick question.”

The one-on-one sessions, set for Wednesdays at 5 p.m. and Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m. are more personal and in depth.

Learn more or register at


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