The rapid evolvement of new technologies related to information retrieval and multimedia usage has left many sight disabled and older residents feeling uneasy and somewhat alienated from the public library. There is a pressing need for public libraries to provide the tools for access to this technology and to assist in the education and training of senior citizens and visually impaired individuals who wish to explore software and digital information found on the Internet. In order to fulfill the Minneapolis Pubic Librarys mission to ensure that all people in the community have equitable access to information, it is necessary to provide the means for elderly and sight impaired individuals to access digital resources. The Libraries Online! project has enabled the Minneapolis Public Library to extend world wide web access and networked reference products, which we currently provide to sighted library users, to those with impaired vision also.
The Libraries Online! project at the Minneapolis Public Library reaches out to low-income seniors and sight-impaired individuals by providing computer workstations equipped with speech recognition, large monitors, and print enlargement of Internet resources and multimedia software. The library also provides training to these and other patrons in the use of traditional, digital and on-line resources.
Because Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library has an active volunteer program, a cadre of volunteers have been successfully recruited, trained and scheduled to provide one on one training to the public in the use of the Internet and the Arkenstone Reading Machine. These tutoring sessions are very popular with both the tutors and with the public, and allow the Library to offer a level of service to the community that could not otherwise be supported with current staffing levels. The Libraries Online! project has presented the library with an exciting opportunity to train current tutors on new equipment as well as to recruit new tutors from the National Federation for Blind of Minnesota, the Adaptive Technology Service at the University of Minnesota, and other community organizations serving the visually impaired and Senior Citizens.
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