Technology ‘grant’ed

Published 8:34 am Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Student-patron Haley Fretwell uses a computer at Atmore Public Library Tuesday afternoon after school.

On any given day, the Atmore Public Library is busy serving customers — and not just for checking out books.

Patrons also use the library’s computers, printers and software, as well as other services. The library was recently awarded a 2012 Library Services and Technology Act grant through Alabama Public Library Service. This grant will provide five computers, one laser printer and Office software for the student and adult department.

The Library Services and Technology Act is the only federal program exclusively for libraries. Typically, matching funds are required but Atmore Public Library Director Cathy McKinley said because the grant was received near the end of the fiscal calendar, such a requirement was not necessary.

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“This is a grant to help our patrons. This is strictly for them,” McKinley said. “We frequently assess the needs of our patrons.”

Through assessing the need of its patrons, Atmore Public Library strives to be a vibrant center for learning and enjoyment, offering people of all ages abundant opportunities to enrich their lives.

The library provides 11 computers, two laser printers, and Office software to its student and adult patrons. So far this fiscal year, the computers have been used 13,277 times.

The library also has seven computers in the children’s department, which include educational software. With the start of the school year, the library sees an increase in the number of families coming through the doors. When school assignments are handed out, things can get a little crowded.

“We have many, many kids in here at one time,” McKinley said.

Atmore Public Library tries to assist students with school assignments in as many ways as they are able. They offer a variety of skill software programs to help students from Pre-K all the way up to college students. The Learning Express program offers free practice tests on a wide variety of subjects. Just some of the practice tests include: SAT, ACT, a variety of AP subjects, nursing school practice entrance, ASVAB practice for the military, and law enforcement practice. Additionally, Atmore Public Library offers helpful resources through the Alabama Virtual Library and Homework Alabama.

“When I first came here 21 years ago, there was no way we could’ve gotten the books students need for their research,” McKinley said.
For students furthering their education outside the confines of the traditional classroom, the library offers practice tests for the GED as well. The have hard-copy practice books or can help individuals access practice tests through Learning Express.

According to McKinley, the computers are primarily used for research, Office software, and for job searches.

“Libraries are probably used now more than ever before,” McKinley said. “We have a lot of people come in here for their job search. So many more people are using the library, especially in this sluggish economy.”

The library is hoping to receive a wireless Internet connection before the end of the calendar year. In a previous grant received from the Auburn University, one of the benefits included wireless Internet. Under the stipulations of the aforementioned grant, Atmore Public Library must send monthly reports on computer usage. The usage amount is high, especially for that of a small town. Many in Atmore may not have access to a personal computer, so they rely on Atmore Public Library. The library offers free computer classes, including instruction on using the Internet, email and other computer applications.

In addition to the grant, September is an important time for the library because it is Library Card Sign-Up Month.

“In the past, we’ve just encouraged people to sign up,” McKinley said. “We have a lot of patrons. Not all of them are active, but I think we have about 12,000 patrons.”

Atmore Public Library serves a broad area, too. McKinley estimates in addition to serving all of Atmore, they have patrons come from Perdido, Uriah, Bratt, Century and other nearby areas outside of Atmore.

Atmore Public Library tries to satisfy the demands of patrons by stocking the latest titles. Large print books, Christian fiction and urban fiction are among the books in highest demand.

“Our needs have multiplied many times. When I first started working here it was fiction or non-fiction,” McKinley said. “Adults are checking out Christian fiction. It’s hard to keep enough Christian fiction in the library for them.”

Also popular among patrons are audio books, Westerns and romance.

Whether it’s a hard-copy book or using the Internet on one of the library’s computers, Atmore Public Library continues to strive to serve the needs of the community of Atmore.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have a library like this for a town of this size,” McKinley said.