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My Local Library Saved my Sanity!
Member Name: jo1976
Date: 24/04/09, updated on 29/03/12 (226 review reads)
Advantages: Free internet access, fast connection
Disadvantages: Limited to library opening times, old fashioned monitors
I've always been a fan of my local library in Staffordshire. I love reading and I take my youngest son to 'Baby Bounce & Rhyme' at the library most weeks so I'm familiar with the layout of the building and most of the staff, who are all incredibly friendly and approachable. One thing I've never needed to use the library for was its free internet service, being in the fortunate position of having a trusty broadband connection at home (like the majority of the population now.)
When my old bulky desktop PC decided to die a sudden death on me a few weeks ago, part of me was secretly pleased that I had a valid excuse to treat myself to a sparkly new laptop. It was only when I started seriously researching my options that the reality of life without the internet started to hit me. When it comes to any potential major purchase, my first point of call is always to go online and read up on consumer reviews (of course!) as well as undertaking online price comparisons and checking out the cashback offers available. Without access to the internet, I honestly felt lost! (To make matters worse, my computer crashed at the start of two weeks' annual leave, so I couldn't even have a crafty peek online in my lunch break either!)
Being a regular visitor to the library, I was already aware that they provide free internet access although I wasn't sure of how the process worked. Being the school holidays we went, en famille, to the library to check out the options online. I have been a member of the library for many years and, surprisingly, I even managed to track down a little card that I'd been given way back when I first joined as I seemed to recall being told something about having a PIN number for internet access. Joining the library doesn't take any time at all, from memory, and they no longer seem to ask for about twenty different types of ID either!
What is rather grandly referred to as the 'IT Suite' is a collection of around 15 desktop computers in the upper floor of my local library. No pre-booking is needed and there isn't any limit on the amount of time that you can spend online, although you are asked to stop after an hour if there are other people waiting to access the computers. I'd be quite surprised if that ever happened though, as most of us do have internet access at home now, not to mention the increasingly advanced internet phones etc. In all, I actually ended up using the library computers on three separate occasions and there were, at most, five or six people using them at any one time (although I would argue that it is still a justifiable service and, no doubt, a lifeline for many people without ready internet access elsewhere.)
I knew that my library also has a set of three computers downstairs in the children's section of the library and I wanted to use one of these so that I could be in the same room as the kids (although my husband was there as well.) As these are mainly aimed for children's use, I had to ask at the front information desk to access these computers. This wasn't a problem as I had children with me, I just needed to be logged on by a member of staff who was happy to oblige.
I don't want to seem critical about something that is a free public service but the monitors themselves did not look very promising. I've been used to a trendy 19 inch flatscreen and it seemed strange accessing the internet on a clumpy great monitor, that looked like something Noah had thrown off the Ark! I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the broadband connection itself was actually incredibly fast! I don't know the actual speed of the connection but it was certainly much faster than the service that I'd been used to at home (around 8mbs.)
Logging on was straightforward, just needing library membership number and the PIN number supplied. The friendly staff can remind you of both numbers if you forget to bring them with you. Navigating the web on the library computers was just as I'm used to. (One of the advantages of being in the library is that there is always somebody available for advice and assistance for even the least experienced of web users.) I was a bit worried whether any sites would be blocked or restricted and whether cookies would be accepted (as I wanted to order my laptop online to qualify for cashback.) Fortunately, I was able to access everything I needed to and the cashback tracked too, which will go towards meeting the cost of the laptop itself! A printing service is also available, costing around 5p per copy, slightly more for colour print outs (although prices and facilities may vary in different areas of the country.)
The second time I went to the library was to complete the broadband set up and I managed to sneek off by myself which was bliss. Honestly, I now have some sympathy for hardened smokers when they get a crafty fag after trying to give up - it felt so exhilarating being back online after such a long enforced break! Having the luxury of being online for longer meant that I could browse some of my old favourites. (I even had a quick look at Dooyoo to see how my miles total was looking!) This was when I discovered that the library computers automatically log you off after an hour's connection although, to be fair, the screen does give you notice beforehand that this is about to happen. It's easy enough to log straight back on though which I very promptly did!
Obviously, being a library, it's a very quiet environment and has a good atmosphere for anybody needing to concentrate on more academic activities. I'd imagine that a large percentage of those who use library computers are actually students. (In fact, I bumped into my neighbour's oldest daughter also using the pc's. She's a student who had come back home for the Easter holidays and was using the web to get cheap car insurance.) The other major set of users are what might be called 'silver surfers', making the most of free internet access and all that the web has to offer in their retirement. My in-laws live down in Cornwall and they use their local library to access email meaning that we can send them photos of the grandkids without any cost to any of us and keep in regular contact too.
All in all, I am so thankful for this wonderful service offered by our public libraries. It would have been a nightmare going through the process of buying my new laptop and setting up a new internet connection without having access to the internet at all. Hopefully, it's not a service that I'm going to need to use again for some time - nothing compares to the convenience of accessing the web from the comfort of your own sofa at a time that suits you - but it is good to know that this is available in times of dire need!
Summary: A great public service!
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