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While most library staffs are happy to help with downloading e-books, browsing the Internet and computer literacy, there are limits to a librarian’s tech support expertise. If you show up with a hardware problem — your tablet won’t turn on or a screen is cracked — the librarians will likely direct you elsewhere.
“We’re not the [Apple] Genius Bar. If somebody drops their iPad in the bathtub, I can’t help you,” said Ben Trapskin, assistant director for Anoka County Libraries. “We try to focus on how the technology interacts with our resources.”
In some cases, technological advances mean less face-to-face interaction at the library. Patrons can download e-books without ever setting foot in their local branch and students can get free homework help by live-chatting with tutors on the library’s website.
Rather than lamenting these changes, librarians like Bernie Farrell see them as a way to expand access to information.
“What the library can do for you is not bound by bricks and mortar,” said Farrell, senior librarian at the Minneapolis Central Library. “This size of the unseen library is pretty immense.”
Gretchen Christenson of Eden Prairie made such a discovery after taking basic computer skills classes at various Hennepin County libraries. Since then, she’s used free online tutorials through the library to learn about everything from Microsoft Excel to the Cloud. “It gives you a start, the ability to learn on your own,” Christenson said.
The library can also be a place to explore technology that is still rare in private homes. The Ramsey County library system bought a MakerBot 3-D printer two years ago, primarily for use with teen programming. It proved so popular that they’ve expanded 3-D printing classes to adults and purchased two new MakerBots.
“These are products that are new and people are sort of figuring out how to use them,” said Marcus Lowry, teen librarian for Ramsey County.
Despite all of the technological advances, librarians say, there will always be books.
Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association, said there is still ample evidence that people largely prefer reading the old-fashioned way, ink on paper.
“We’re not throwing away the relationships and the conversations and the reading of printed books,” Stripling said. “We are adding on and maybe deepening the reading experience through technology.”
Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758