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Library patrons checking out the Internet

July 22, 1998

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

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Library InternetBy MATTHEW BIENIEK / Staff Writer

Jeff Hasenbuhler, 17, and his friend Nelson Moon, 16, meet in downtown Hagerstown around 10 a.m. most mornings and head for a favorite hangout: The Washington County Free Library's Computing Literacy Center.

The two teenagers share a fierce interest in professional wrestling, and at the computing literacy center they can check out information and share gossip on the sport.

"It's better than TV, because you can yell at your TV, but it won't yell back, but these people talk back" over the Internet, said Hasenbuhler.

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With each using one of the five Internet accessible terminals in the library's computing literacy center, the two e-mail other wrestling fans and read the Web publications on wrestling.

They also spend time in chat rooms where they can air their views on wrestlers and match results with fans the world over.

"It's free and you don't have to worry about paying for anything. Just click a button and there you go," Nelson said.

The library doesn't ban patron use of chat rooms, but doesn't encourage it, said director of adult services Barbara Gibney.

"The problem is it locks the terminals up and we have to reboot them," she said.

The library does ban some uses of the Internet, such as visiting sites with graphic sexual content or nudity. The library doesn't use filtering software to block such sites in this area of the library.

Filtering software is used on the three terminals in the children's homework center.

Web wrestling is just one example of the many recreational and educational uses for the computer terminals.

The center is popular with computer users from opening to closing each day, said John Venditta, information services manager at the library.

A survey taken for 11 days after the computing literacy center opened on June 11 showed 572 uses of the computing literacy center by patrons, about 52 per day, said Barbara Gibney, adult services director at the library.

Although the numbers might reflect more than one use by one person, there is an hour time limit per user if other patrons are waiting.

Learning, not entertainment, is the focus of the computing literacy center, said Kathy O'Connell, library assistant director.

And many patrons do use the terminals for educational purposes.

Don Williams, 48, of Hagerstown is teaching himself how to use a computer. Williams said he hopes computer literacy will help him find a job. He's been visiting the library every day for a week to get on the computer. He'd never worked on one before, he said.

With an instruction book beside the computer monitor, Williams seemed to be navigating the Internet with assurance, rarely looking at the book.

Venditta said most patrons he talks to don't have computers at home.

None of the five users at the library on Tuesday morning own a computer.

All five computers at the computing literacy center are hooked up to a CD-ROM drive, Venditta said.

Programs available include a resume-writing program, and software to help users prepare for the Graduate Record Examination and the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Software also offers typing lessons and tips on business planning.

To help the computing literacy center live up to its name, Venditta is seeking volunteers to assist library patrons with everything from changing a type font or printing a document to navigating Internet sites.

Such volunteers won't replace reference librarians, Venditta said.

In addition to the main library's Internet-accessible terminals, each of the six county branch libraries have two terminals, except Keedysville, which has one.

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