Adopt a computer and sustain your technology

When it comes to the library's computer network, we've been very much like Blanche Dubois, depending on the kindness of strangers. (breathy voice here) Or at least, the kindness of random library supporters. As long as the network was small, with only a scattering of public computers, this has worked – and it has worked for a surprisingly long time.

But we have eight public use computers now as well as some catalog-only computers, a special computer hooked up to microfilm machinery, and all the innards of a staff network: servers, bridges, wireless hubs, and staff PCs. It's time we grew up and asked for a line item in the budget for IT maintenance.

I feel it's important for the county to step up to the plate with support for the library's computer network and we will be presenting our case to the county administrator and the board of supervisors over the coming year. Times are tough and I expect to have to be as persuasive as possible to wring new money out of local government. Eventually we'll get what we need because we have that most compelling of tools: We won't give up.

But I am a great believer in private support as well as public and having that private support goes a long way towards convincing local government that our need is the community's need; that it's valued by they are answerable to. Last month at the Turning the Page workshops in North Carolina, my team came up with a plan that has us so excited we can't wait to start making calls.

For our public access computers--the ones everybody sees--we've developed an Adopt-a-Computer Program. Local organizations, businesses, or even individuals or families can adopt a computer by committing to donating $365 a year for three years. This is just $1 a day and for that we will place a sign on the computer that says it has been made available to the people of the county courtesy of the adoptive organization. They can name the computer in honor of their business, a friend, a family member or in memory of a loved one. The adoptive organization receives a framed Adoption Certificate and twice a year we will send them a report card about their computer – how many hours it's been in use, how many people have used it, any interesting stories of success we have gathered from the users of their computer.

We've put together a packet that includes a folder, contact information, a brochure of Frequently Asked Questions, a pledge form with an addressed envelope and a sample Adoption Certificate. (This took a lot longer than I thought it would – but it's done now. Microsoft Publisher is fun, but it's tedious.) We're scheduling visits with nine organizations to ask them if they'll consider becoming adoptive computer parents, but we've already gotten a tentative Yes from the Rotary and they haven't yet seen the materials.

We're very excited about this project and figure in our case it will generate almost $3,000 a  year to support computer replacements. We based our figure on the price of a mid-level PC with a 3 year 24/7 service/replacement contract on it. But we also liked the idea of $1 a day, which makes for an easy amount to remember.

So. I'll let you know how successful we are with this fund raising project and also how well this private support helped us get the public funding we're going to need to keep our other technology equipment in good shape.

Bess Haile, Library Director
Essex Public Library
Tappahannock, VA

Comments

Thanks for sharing your story here, Bess. I look forward to hearing how this goes! I love that you are capturing the stories of success from the users of the computers. Computers in libraries play such a big role in so many people's lives -- using them for job hunting, keeping in touch with family, finding health information, starting a business, etc... I think hearing those stories will help people feel really good about their contribution and will help them understand how important computers in libraries are, too.

There's a back-story to the story collecting that's worth sharing here. Last summer the Gates foundation solicited success stories about our computer users. I could think of 2 stories right away, one about a man who started a small side business using our computers and one about a woman who took a test for her company and got a promotion. Both of these folks did not have high speed access at home - -or even in their neighborhoods. While getting the stories I realized I'd let this golden PR opportunity slip through my fingers for years. Right away we devised a short (6 questions) questionnaire about the user's experience. Staff was instructed to get this filled out whenever they have: A. spent an extra or extraordinary amount of time with a patron and B. the patron found what she wanted. It's true. Computers change lives. But the biggest change came in our attitude, because these needy patrons, the ones who walk in, frequently in tears, and blurt out, “I've never used a computer before and I need to apply for Social Security” or with similarly complex demands - well - those were the patrons we used to dread. Now they're the ones we're looking for, because they're the ones that are going to make us look so good. It's all in the perspective, isn't it?

A light bulb went off for me as I read your reply. So interesting to realize that it's not just about the stories that we capture, but as you said, the mental shift that the act of capturing those stories creates. A powerful idea.

I've been enjoying this blog - http://depts.washington.edu/imlspac/blog/ - project at U-Wash, funded by Gates $. Probably related to the stories solicited last summer (which you referred to)?