By NICOLE GUGINO
OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
Computers are a fact of life in today's society. Computer skills are necessary for getting a job, paying bills, entering a contest or a number of other items.
OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino
Pictured is the Dunkirk Free Library’s Computer Lab. The library recently lost funding for its community computer classes but hopes to fund the program again.
For the past several years the Dunkirk Free Library has offered computer classes to try to address the need for adult training with computers.
"We had started out with the goal in mind of having computer classes that would enhance the digital literacy of the community and help people become more employable," Dunkirk Library Director Janice Dekoff said.
"We have seen a real uptick in use since we installed the computers and we have people who are coming to us whose lives have changed. They are more confident, they are more capable and they're seeing more and more the library is a resource for more than just books.
"And it's showing that we really are a cornerstone piece in the community."
She explained introductory classes have been popular.
"We have really found that the very basic introduction computer classes have been very successful. We almost always have a Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel class going on. We've done introduction to Windows 7, that has been very popular. We have done digital camera classes, those have been great and we have done a number of classes where people learn to use an iPad and those are really popular. We are not sure when it's going to run again but I already have a list of 16 people that are interested," she explained.
Dekoff said the classes have been popular with many different people from job seekers to seniors and have been valuable in training the community in computer literacy.
"I think that the program is valuable for one reason because it helps people get the skills that they need to be employable. With the industries leaving in the Dunkirk and Silver Creek areas, we are seeing people that have been laid off come in, we have seen people like that for the last two years. (The program) gives them those skills for employability's sake. They are coming into a world where you have to know how to use a computer even in a very basic way and it's giving people who don't necessarily need it for work to have the confidence to exist in a computer-based world. These days you can't even enter a contest by entering a post card, you have to do it on the computer. ... We have a wide range of people from the job seekers and the young people to senior citizens who really have seen so much of the world change in their life time and maybe haven't used a computer before. It gives them the confidence to come in to a nonjudgmental space and ask all their questions and not feel inadequate," Dekoff explained.
The library funded computer classes for the past two years with a grant from the State Education Department. The Dunkirk Library was awarded $244,517 through the New York State Broadband Technology Program Grant Project. This allowed the library to hire one full-time director and went from having two to three part-time lab attendants. However, last month the grant funds ran out, putting classes on hold.
"There was a state and federal grant we received that ran out at the end of January and what that has meant for us is, especially the staff members that we hired, we were not able to keep them on. The pretty heavy cut from the city impacted that and then losing the funding from the grant," Dekoff explained.
She said the community had become familiar with the computer staff.
"We have had a lot of people coming in asking about our staff members, the two people who were here the longest were here for two years and they really became part of the library community and now the people who are coming in asking for them. It's tough to tell them that between losing the funding from the grant and some of funding from the city that keeping those people just couldn't be an option at this point with our finances," Dekoff added.
She said the library is looking at options to fund the computer program again.
"We have a small amount of computer grant funding from a previous grant that we are using right now. But we are looking into partnering with BOCES and working with them to get an adult literacy grant through Dollar General, which would be a really great thing for us. Also, right now, we are considering what to do but we are considering approaching local businesses for sponsorship and things of that nature," she said.
Dekoff said the library accepts donations, all of which are tax deductible for the donor.
"We would be thrilled to accept donations to help the computer program, we would be thrilled to accept donations to help us in any way," she said.
Donations can be made by cash or check made out to the Dunkirk Free Library by stopping by the library during business hours. She said the library also accepts donations through Paypal on its website dunkirklibrary.weebly.com.
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