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July 16, 2008 > Connecting Tri-City teens and seniors

Connecting Tri-City teens and seniors

Submitted By Gary Morrison

When Barbara, a Fremont resident, needed help with her new computer, she learned that the Fremont Main Library had a group of trained teen volunteers available to teach her basic computer and Internet skills. She was so appreciative of the assistance she received, she even wrote a thank you note to the teen that spent several weeks working with her. The library also recently won national recognition for this program from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The award-winning program was selected as one of the nation's top programs in its Excellence in Library Service to Young Adults Project!

The Teen/Senior Web Connection program serves both the needs of teens and seniors by providing the ability for teens to earn volunteer credits and learn teaching skills by tutoring seniors on how to use the Internet. Teens receive orientation and training, and are then matched one-on-one with seniors wanting to become comfortable with the Internet. The program evolved from a desire to offer teens a meaningful way to earn school-required community service hours with a need to help our older adult patrons become familiar with the Internet. These seniors, many of whom had Web access at home, had little idea how to actually use online resources. They wanted to communicate by email, but they didn't know how to begin setting up an email account. They had a variety of information needs, but didn't know how to go about performing basic searches.

The importance of the program is signified by the opportunities it provides for teens to earn volunteer credits by assuming the role of teaching, while providing a much needed service to seniors. Many of the seniors have reported that they have tried some the local adult schools and senior centers, but have been frustrated by the classroom and large group approach to teaching the Internet skills they need. The seniors are so appreciative of the teens (and the library) for providing this setting, wherein they can learn in a one-on-one environment. The teens gain an understanding of the role of teaching, a skill rarely gained in most library-based volunteer roles. And, they often start to understand the information needs of a segment of our community that may have previously seemed far-removed from their own. Teens have told us that, when joining this program, they are somewhat apprehensive how they would interact with the seniors. In virtually all cases, they have been very successful, and some have continued in the program even beyond their service hour requirements.

The library recruits teens for the program three times per year. A three-hour training session is done by two staff members, the Teen Librarian, and the Senior Services Librarian. During the training, teens are given an understanding of the library's role in teaching information-seeking skills, patron confidentiality, referring reference questions, and working with issues often relevant to seniors, such as physical limitations.

The program was promoted to teens via the local high schools, school librarians, counselors, teachers, and administrators. Many of the seniors became involved through referrals of library staff, in the course of helping them with computer-related questions at the reference desk. Fliers were also distributed to senior centers, retirement centers, and the local adult school, and library programs for older adults.

The program directly addresses the mission of the library, "The Alameda County Library system provides and protects access to books, information and services that promote learning and enjoyment for everyone." In keeping with this mission, teens learn the importance of information literacy by realizing that there is a segment of their community that needs extra attention to develop skills required to achieve necessary computer competencies. The Teen/Senior Computer Connection has benefited the teens and the seniors in our community, and had has enabled the library to serve an important role by providing a program that allows them to work together in such a positive environment.

The next session will be held on Mondays, from 2 - 5 p.m., July 7 through August 25. Seniors may drop in any time, and no registration is needed. For further questions, please contact Gary Morrison at gmorrison@aclibrary.org.

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