Are you having tech trouble? The Sarasota library system has answers
The Tech Navigator program sets out to solve mysteries of smart phones, laptops and more.
As gadgets and gizmos seemingly advance at gigahertz speeds, a Sarasota County library program slows things down for patrons who might need a little help catching up.
Either by phone, in a virtual setting or one-on-one at a neighborhood branch, a team of about two dozen employees of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources is ready with answers about smartphones, e-readers, computers, printers, email accounts, cybersecurity and beyond.
The Tech Navigator program was launched in early 2022 to help the community not only use a range of sometimes mystifying devices or apps, but also interact better with the library system’s own digital facilities and those of the world in general. More than just learning the difference between pixels and megabytes, the program can ultimately open doors beyond library property, said Jamie Naylor, digital literacy librarian.
"... one of those tasks that many people might take for granted, like using e-mail, can be a steep learning curve for others.’’Jamie Naylor, digital literacy librarian
“I was just talking to a Navigator within the last month or so and they said they have one patron who needed to set up an e-mail account to apply for a job,’’ she said. “The second appointment was about learning how to use the e-mail, how to send an e-mail, how to reply to an e-mail. So one of those tasks that many people might take for granted, like using e-mail, can be a steep learning curve for others.’’
As tech devices become increasingly rooted in basic tasks (have you tried paying a highway toll with cash lately?), those who seek help do so for a variety of reasons.
Meet, for instance, Joerg Nietschmann, a German citizen who is now a resident of Bradenton. Performing such tasks as applying for a Florida drivers’ license or renting a car using devices with overseas internet credentials became troublesome. His experience with the Tech Navigators began while volunteering at a county library when he spotted a pamphlet near the circulation desk.
After a series of false starts with commercial providers and even a college student who ended up graduating and moving on, Nietschmann solved each of his new-to-America problems one by one with weekly visits to his Navigator helper over several months.
He now visits monthly, something he calls “continuing education.’’
“It’s sometimes problems every third grader could know, but the third grader has five or six years with English as his native language,’’ he said. “What I say is, it starts with the basic things, but for a lot of people who are not going to school from the cradle to elementary school, high school to the whole life through the American system, if you come here as an immigrant or whatever, there are so many things where you need this digital support.”
Both Nietschmann and fellow Tech Navigator patron Philip Cater said some digital basics simply are hard to get solved without help.
“I didn't need an answer to a question specifically, but when I visited the library, I'm thinking that's probably how I learned about the digital options that were available,’’ Cater said. “And so then I explored that on my own and found many of them to be easy to use, easy to access, and really just for my own sort of entertainment, not so much a problem to be solved. I'm a big fan of the digital options — who wants to drive? If you don't have to drive or you want a book, it's available (digitally).”
The program isn’t a specially funded undertaking and doesn’t operate with a budget of its own, Naylor said. Rather, navigator duties at eight of the county’s 10 branches — coming soon to Shannon Staub Library in North Port — are part of a normal workday of the employees who are trained to deliver patient and consistent assistance, Naylor said.
While there are no shortage of books, magazines and other printed material at the county’s library branches, access to digital material is expanding rapidly. Having someone on hand to help point people in the right direction is simply a new expectation of a library in the digital age, Naylor said.
“As soon as we started having a microcomputer in our pockets, the world changed a bit,’’ Naylor said. “So, we just keep expanding the way that we help our community.’’
Eric Garwood is the executive editor of the Community News Collaborative. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
People interested in taking part in the Sarasota County library system’s Tech Navigator program can ask about it at any branch or call the Library Information Center at 941-861-1110