America / ARTICLES

The Boston Globe: “Borrow a book and a computer”

Good news for those who urgently need to get online in Copley Square.

The Boston Public Library’s central branch has more than doubled the number of computers with one-hour Internet access, a big relief to library patrons who used to endure long waits.

Sixty new computers with flat-screen monitors were added on July 18, replacing 28 machines that were between five and seven years old. The new computers can read and burn CDs, and read DVDs, and have multiple USB ports. The long waiting times for computers, which in the past made it necessary to sign up the day before, or at least three to four hours prior to going online, have been eliminated.

“You can walk up to any vacant machine and sign up with your library card, type in your pin, and get right on the computer,” said Susan Glover, the manager of reference and information services at the library.

At 4 p.m. last Monday,16 of the 60 computers were unoccupied, and many Web surfers were tourists, especially foreign students who are in Boston for summer jobs and do not have computers at home. (Visitors to the city may sign up for a temporary library card.)

“Before, you could never really get a computer; you had to wait for someone to get off,” said Nigel Alexander, 21, a summer worker from Ireland. “Now there is always one free for an hour. I haven’t had to wait at all.” Alexander visits the library two or three times a week to send e-mails to his friends back home.

Zarina Tatunbetova, 19, and Temirkhan Zhuldyzbayev, 20, college students from Kazakhstan who are in Boston this summer thanks to a program called Summer Work & Travel USA, were searching the Internet for jobs, scribbling down employers’ phone numbers and job descriptions. They said they have a laptop in their apartment in Dorchester but the signal is weak.

“The computers here are very good, and new,” Zhuldyzbayev said.

A high school teacher from India was even more impressed. “I think this is the most wonderful library I’ve ever seen,” said Wendy Leyland, 49, who teaches biology and chemistry in Calcutta. “I’m going to meet some friends to tell them about the library.”

The computers, which had been spread out throughout the library, are now located in one place – the Hub Computer Center, a spacious room on the second floor of the library’s McKim Building. The room boasts marble floors, high ceilings, and a towering oil painting of George Washington on the battlefield.

New desks, which contain flat screens, and chairs that match the colors of the room’s walls and floor, cost $50,000 and were purchased specifically for the facility, Glover said.

“It had to blend in with George Washington staring at everybody,” said the library’s acting chief technology officer, Henry Bernasconi.

In addition to the one-hour machines, the library is adding two 15-minute computers, which are in a nearby room. According to Bernasconi, the extra one-hour computers relieved the pressure on the 15-minute terminals, which in the past had waiting lines of 15 to 20 people. The library now will have 18 express, 15-minute computers, increasing the number of computers with Internet access at the Copley Square branch to 78 from 44.

Not everyone in the computer room, however, was a tourist.

One woman was doing a crossword puzzle, a Brandeis student who has a waitressing job downtown was catching up on the news during her break, and one man was checking the schedule of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Annie Siddoway, 24, who said she doesn’t have a computer at home because “it’s too expensive,” searched for temporary secretarial and pet-sitting jobs.

“I’ve been able to upgrade my resume more, get a lot more done instead of coming every day in hopes of getting a computer,” she said. Prior to the upgrade, she said, she was unable to get on the Internet probably half of the times she visited the library.

University professor Paul Tero, 50, said he likes to surf the Web at the library because the building is quiet and cool, and he believes the library offers more privacy than his office at work.

“It was difficult when [they] only had 20 computers. I had to wait for two hours. I couldn’t take that long of a break and wait for a computer.”

Are 60 new computers really adequate to meet the demand for free Internet in downtown Boston?

“There is not a line, that’s the most amazing thing,” Glover said.

“That’s not to say,” she continued, “we won’t have lines in the future when more people learn about it.”

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