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Insights from Internet Interns

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Internet InternA lot of Internet learning begins at the local library, where there are computers and Internet connections to get patrons started on navigating the online world. In late 2011, the Vermont State Colleges teamed up with the Department of Libraries to try out an “Internet Intern” project at libraries in e-Vermont towns. Trained college student interns went to libraries for set hours each week to answer questions from patrons or staff.

Stories from the field started almost immediately:

One patron I have been working with. . .when we first met she knew how to open her e-mail account, but could do nothing else save write a basic e-mail. Over the course of the last few weeks we have been working on getting her better acquainted with her e-mail program. Now she has learned how to sort her emails into groups, how to delete in bulk, how to change her e-mail preferences, how to use spam filters, and so much more. The other day she told me that being able to communicate with her family via e-mail had already made her Christmas.
One woman I worked with wanted to learn how to navigate Craigslist so that she could search for a particular type of hallmark ornament that she collected. I showed her Craigslist which was interesting for a few minutes until she realized that she wouldn’t find the ornaments there. I told her Craigslist wasn’t really the place she wanted and asked if she had ever heard of ebay? She hadn’t so I showed her ebay and went right in and searched for her ornament, which gave us hundreds of results, all the way back through each year’s edition of the ornament. The woman was so excited to see them all there and to go through all the listings, naming the ones she had, didn’t have, liked, didn’t like, and of course, the ones she wanted. Then she started to question the whole process of buying things over the internet, and after asking a few more questions about it, determined that she would think about it and come back next week. . . I really enjoyed working with that woman because she was so intimidated by the whole idea of using the computer, but by the end of an hour had enough confidence to go home and play around on her own.
My favorite was the lady who was working for weeks and weeks to find Christmas cookie recipes for a church bake sale. She just needed occasional help navigating search engines and websites and then printing the recipes in a font big enough for her to read. She was so pleased with herself when she got that routine down. It was awesome.
I recently had a session with a gentleman who is 81! He told me that he had decided he would no longer make excuses about not knowing how to use a computer and was determined to finally learn how to use the Internet despite the carpal tunnel which made it painful for him. I was so inspired by his drive to learn something new despite the excuses available to him!
I love that something that seems so simple and easy to me can be so meaningful and life-changing for someone else. I’ve had comments like “Thank you, I think you just saved my marriage” that help me to see what a huge obstacle internet-literacy can be for some people!

Read more at the Internet Interns program page.

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