Technology has variety of uses for parish library patrons

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 21, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – Tomato farmers, grade school students, Catholic parishioners and doting grandparents all have one thing in common – they’ve all put the Concordia Parish Library’s computer technology to good use.

The library changed to being fully automated six years ago, switching to automated checkout of books and providing a myriad of resources available to the public on computers, said Concordia Parish Librarian Amanda Taylor.

&uot;Being in a rural area, we still have many families who don’t have computers at home,&uot;&160;Taylor said. &uot;The public library’s role is to serve all the people, and this (computer technology) is just another way for us to do that.&uot;

Perhaps the centerpiece of the Concordia Parish Library’s technology is its web page. There, patrons can search the library’s catalog online to see whether any of its branches have a certain book.

&uot;Then they can call us and ask us to hold that book for them at the front desk,&uot; Taylor said. Users can also use the site to e-mail questions and requests to the library’s staff.

Users can click on dozens of links to web sites with information on business, government, education, science, medical, agricultural, legal and genealogy as well as resources like the World Book International Encyclopedia. The library’s web site also contains a link to the Foundation Center Online, a web site that lists sources of grants for every type of enterprise.

&uot;One man was starting a tomato farm and wanted to know what grants he could get to start his tomato farm,&uot; Taylor said.

The web site contains practice tests for entrance exams for the Armed Forces, the U.S. Postal Office and several other occupations. It also has sample tests students can use to practice for the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program test, a high-stakes test taken by the state’s fourth- and eighth-grade students.

And those with Concordia library cards can type in their card numbers to get online access to databases they can use when researching school papers, business ventures and other projects.

Database topics range from medical and scientific information to literature and poetry, and others have the full texts of newspaper and magazine articles.

The databases, which Taylor said are bought by the library and contain information from authoritative sources, can also be accessed using computers that are available for public use at the library’s branches.

&uot;That’s important, because the Internet itself has a lot of information, but if children are doing homework, they have to go to authoritative sources,&uot; Taylor said.

The Concordia Parish Library’s Web site is located at http://www.concordia.lib.la.us/.

But the Concordia Library is not the only library in the parish to offer such databases for students. Gayle Carlock, librarian at Ferriday Junior High, said students at that school keep that library’s five computers almost constantly in use.

&uot;Many of them don’t have computers at home, and some that do may not be connected to the Internet,&uot; Carlock said.

&uot;This gives those students an opportunity to do research for their assignments. And more teachers than ever are requiring their students to have at least one online source in their reports.&uot;

Students can only go online in order to look up information for assignments – not simply to &uot;surf the ‘Net&uot; – and can only do so if they get permission from their parents, Carlock said. And since so many students use the computers, users are limited to only 15 minutes on the computers at a time.

But students are not the only ones that use computer-based databases at the Concordia Parish Library, Taylor said.

For example, people taking certain medicines or facing certain medical conditions often look up the latest research on such medical topics on the databases.

&uot;Or people want to look up background on current events like the China (military airplane) crisis or hoof-and-mouth disease,&uot; Taylor said. &uot;Or they can look up information on Osama bin Laden and not only do they get that, but a picture of him comes up on the screen, too.&uot;

Those using the library’s computers can also use them to browse the Internet or check their electronic mail, or e-mail, accounts.

The only catch is that there is a limit on how long patrons can use the computers – two hours for adults and one hour for children.

The library recently dropped off bookmarks with the addresses of its branches at the newly opened Riverview RV Park. &uot;We probably had about 20 people come in to use the computers (at the Vidalia branch) to check their e-mail,&uot;&160;Taylor said.

But perhaps Taylor’s biggest wake-up call happened when Father Anthony Bharmaraj, or &uot;Father Raj&uot; to his parishioners at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Ferriday, went home to India to visit his family.

&uot;All these parishioners started coming in in droves because they wanted to talk to their priest via e-mail,&uot; Taylor said.

And thanks to a grant from Louisiana Public Broadcasting, the library has tutors that can teach people how to navigate the Internet and use e-mail. Tutoring is done one-on-one on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and on Saturday morning.

&uot;Most would think that people in rural areas don’t want to change, but our patrons have been excited about it,&uot; Taylor said. &uot;And there’s no such thing as the ‘typical’ patron here – everybody uses our technology.&uot;