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Gates Foundation donates computers, software to library

August 17, 1999

New Library computersBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Billionaire computer magnate Bill Gates has spread some of his wealth in the Eastern Panhandle.

The Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library added six new computers Aug. 1 through a grant from the Gates Library Initiative.

West Virginia was one of seven states that received computers through a program targeted at public libraries that serve low-income communities, according to the Gates Foundation Internet site.

"This equalizes the technology resources available to underprivileged states. It's a great leveler for education and economics," Martinsburg Librarian Jane Levitan said.

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The new computers give the library a total of 14 workstations which are in near-constant use by both children and adults, Levitan said.

It is not uncommon for all of the terminals to be occupied at one time with a steady stream of users throughout the day, she said.

Users as young as 9 years old log on to the computers for everything from e-mail and school research to video game hints and stock tips.

"It's incredible the interest and diversity of the computer users we see," Levitan said.

The library has four computers in its children's section in the basement, allowing youngsters to get an introduction to computers from the likes of "Barney" and "The Magic School Bus," Levitan said.

Cathy Decker of Martinsburg and her 3-year-old son, Ryan, got their first look at the library's new computers on Tuesday.

While Ryan wasn't ready to surf the Internet, Decker said the computer provided the opportunity for Ryan to tap out a few letters and begin to familiarize himself with a tool that will become a bigger part of his life as he gets older.

Although she has a computer in their home, Decker said that not everyone has that technology.

"The library computers give kids that don't have computers a chance to play games and learn different skills," Decker said.

The library does not restrict Internet sites, but Levitan said parents who harbor concerns that their children may find adult material online can ask librarians to freeze out the Internet when their child logs on.

As a rule, the library asks people to visit sites that are appropriate for a public setting but Levitan acknowledges that everyone doesn't always adhere to that rule.

"Those are usually the people who are peeking at the screen under the cover. Shame generally takes over for those people," she said.

With the start of the new school year in the not-so-distant future, Levitan said the computers will offer a popular after-school destination for students with homework projects.

"People will definitely want to come here in the morning if they want to get on a computer," Levitan said.

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