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Waiting to e-mail

January 30, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

An Internet access service offered by the Washington County Free Library is so popular patrons often wait in line up to an hour to use it, but library officials hope that may change.

The library has computers with Internet access available to library visitors and the line to use them starts as soon as the library opens its doors.

"We average about 70 people a day. It's never reached a hundred, but it could if we were open past 9 o'clock," adult services manager Elizabeth Hulett said.

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"The demand is exceeding the supply," said library patron Kodiak Purdon, who uses the library twice a week to check his e-mail and look for a job. "This is a good use of taxpayers' dollars. I can't afford a computer and Internet service at home."

The time of the day doesn't seem to matter, library Executive Director Mary Baykan said. There always are people waiting for one of the six computers available in the adult general public area, and things aren't getting any better, she said.

In 2002, the library bought 10 new computers with a $35,000 private grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The new computers replaced six older terminals in the adult general public area and four in the children's area, library officials said.

Baykan said Internet usage is growing rapidly in all segments of the population.

"You'll see a teen-ager sitting next to someone in their 70s, even 80s, using the computer," she said.

She said there is some relief in sight to the heavy demand. In the next three months, enhancements are planned to reduce the wait time for adult Internet users.

The library recently spent $5,000 to install a wireless Internet system for patrons who own laptops equipped for wireless connections.

"And we hope to add up to two or three computers in an area we plan to renovate for teen-agers by the fall of this year," Baykan said.

Public space limitations and budget constraints prevent any major expansion or computer additions to the public areas during the next four years, Baykan said.

The library also is in the early stages of a possible partnership to provide library service to students at the new University Systems of Maryland Hagerstown campus set to open next year. That could result in added Internet terminals, she said.

Until then, as more people are introduced to Internet usage, lines will get longer, Baykan said.

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