This article was written by Donald de Voil, Internet Interns Coordinator at CCV
In today's world, it can be impossible to apply for a job, fill out a government form, or complete other essential tasks, without some internet literacy. Sadly, too many Vermonters find the world of online a bewildering, frustrating and disempowering experience. If only there were a place where Vermonters could go to seek help for their internet woes . . . . welcome to the Internet Interns Program!
Through a partnership between the Vermont State Colleges and the Department of Libraries, the program pairs internet literate college students with public libraries around the state. Student interns gain valuable paid work experience. Libraries gain a free service they can offer to their local communities, and library patrons get help and support with their internet queries. Interns also log their interactions with the public, providing a detailed understanding of who is being helped, what kind of help is being provided and the significance of the program to many Vermonters.
Slightly over half of those who use the internet intern program are over 60 and a majority are women. Most are looking for help with their internet browser, email software or operating system. Beyond these general trends though, the program data reveals a mosaic of varied and sometimes unexpected stories, some of which are touching and many of which are vital.
Howard (not his real name) came to an intern because he was worried his computer was infected with a virus. Howard had been called at home by an 'IT company' who claimed they were receiving error messages from his computer. They also claimed they could fix this problem, if he bought their service plan. Not knowing what to do and worried about his computer, Howard came to an internet intern. The intern helped him determine that his computer was working fine. The intern then helped Howard install a free virus protection program on his computer.
Susan (not her real name) came to an intern because she wanted to learn how to type and send letters electronically, rather than write them out by hand as she had always done previously. The intern went over the basics of word processing and she quickly noticed red lines appearing under many of the words she typed. The intern introduced her to spell check. Susan was astonished to learn just how many spelling errors her writing contained, but also delighted to have discovered a way to improve her writing.
Another woman came to an intern because her husband had recently passed away and she badly needed to find documents on his computer, but did not know how to access them. The intern was able to help her find what she needed.
Throughout the state, the Internet Interns Program is helping to meet an important need. Many of those who come seeking help from the program, return. Over the course of many meetings, interns do more than just solve immediate problems, they also help patrons develop long term skills to safely and successfully enter and take part in the online world. For some Vermonters, this development is truly transformative.
"One of my regulars came in to hug and thank me for all my help building her resume and filling out lots of applications" (intern log entry July 2013). The woman in question had been unemployment for some time and close to losing her house. With the intern's help, she had secured both a job and her home. "YAY!!!" wrote the intern in their log entry. Yes indeed.