Salt Lake City library teaches older adults basic technology

Story and photo by STACEY WORSTER

Salt Lake City is known for its large library, which offers many services to the public, including the free rental of thousands of books and the free use of computers, study rooms, wireless internet and more. 

The busy atmosphere at The Salt Lake City Main Library not only allows anyone to enter, but it also offers classes to people who want beginning-level courses on technology.

Courses focus on applications such as: Google Drive, Excel and Word. Other classes teach people how to use the Internet to search for jobs, how to send an email and how to create a proper resume.

Errin Pedersen, adult services manager at the library, said she is passionate about helping the aging community.

“I’m particularly interested in finding ways to serve the aging population in terms of getting them engaged in creative pursuits,” Pedersen said in an email interview. “So in the next year we will start having programming at the library that is geared toward that in particular.”

The people who visit the downtown library at 210 East and 400 South range in age and education level. Each person who walks through the door has different aspirations, Pedersen said.

“You have baby boomers who are just beginning to enter retirement, and then you have seniors in their 80s and 90s,” Pedersen said. “And the needs and interests in that range vary widely, which means we have a lot of opportunities to connect.”

She said the technology instructors help people connect with their world so they don’t get left behind. Computers are now so fundamental to everything we do.

“I think we have well-suited instructors to teach the classes,” Pedersen said in a phone interview. “I think it helps knowing the end goal, that you’re taking someone with very limited technology skills and teaching them things that help them navigate the world around them.”

Pedersen served on Salt Lake City’s Aging in Place Initiative in 2013 and learned a lot about the aging community.

“Serving got me really interested in finding ways to serve the aging population. Also, it really helped open my eyes to the community needs regarding seniors,” Pedersen said in the email. “I want the work I do to be effective in reaching the aging people I’m trying to serve.”

An important aspect of reaching people is knowing where they live. Individuals who live closer to the library are more likely to patronize it.

“I think it’s important to constantly look at the data available to us that tells us what the population we serve looks like, so we can better hone our services to work for everyone,” she said.

Pedersen said the library has seen a rapid increase in attendance of the entry-level computer courses. She said the library is working on offering more classes in the future.

Anne Palmer Peterson, the executive director for the Utah Commission on Aging, said technology can be a barrier for older adults. The world is progressing at an ever-increasing rate and technology is now so fundamental to everything we do.

The award-winning Salt Lake City Main Library holds entry-level technology classes so all can learn computer skills.

The award-winning Salt Lake City Main Library holds entry-level technology classes so all can learn computer skills.

Palmer Peterson earned a master’s degree in public administration from The University of Utah. She focused on barriers and incentives to technology and online course delivery.

“I am very interested in finding out how our libraries can be better equipped as technology centers for people who didn’t grow up digital natives,” she said.

“These are people who are excited about being retired and the life of the mind is something that they are devoted to,” Palmer Peterson said.

Lisa Nelson, the program manager for the regional library for the blind, said in an email, “I think libraries will continue to function as community centers, with programming geared toward users of all ages. The focus is shifting from libraries being repositories of information and knowledge, to being an access point to information outside the walls. So to remain vital, libraries will provide what is most interesting to their users,” she said, “including the type of programming that the community wants. Remaining relevant to the community in this digital age is the biggest challenge for libraries, in my opinion.”

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