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Posted April 26, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Navigating the way

By M.K. Luther - mkluther@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL - The saying "getting old ain't for sissies" can take on a whole new meaning when it comes time for seniors to learn how to use a computer and the Internet.

"To us, it seems like second nature, but to them, it is like a foreign language," said Samuels Public Library adult services and reference librarian Kristin Noell, who teaches the library's weekly computer classes.

Building on the existing adult and senior computer and educational resource programs, the library's new location on Criser Road will be a SeniorNavigator Center, part of a statewide program that helps seniors access valuable resources and information online.

Samuels Public Library Director Nicki Lynch said joining the SeniorNavigator program is another step to augment the library's adult services, which have already expanded at the Criser Road location.

"[It is the idea] that there are a lot of seniors who don't have computers, and we will help them get on there and find information," Lynch said.

The library will host a class Thursday to help seniors and their family members learn how to best use the SeniorNavigator. The class will be instructed by SeniorNavigator community specialist Richie Urtz.

The program, both an online database and an interactive website for seniors, their families and caregivers, offers a "high-tech, high-touch" approach, said Kim Tarantino, director of communications for SeniorNavigator.

SeniorNavigator partners with local community centers such as libraries to provide an on-site access point for the program, she said, and has 640 centers across the state.

The program offers users access to 22,000 resources and the opportunity to e-mail specific, personal questions to volunteer representatives.

The volunteer representatives are experts on subjects ranging from elder care law to health care, Tarantino said. All identifying information is first removed from the e-mails by SeniorNavigator and then forwarded on to a volunteer representative, so the inquiries are anonymous, Tarantino said. A user will receive a reply within two business days, Tarantino said.

SeniorNavigator is available for anyone to visit online, although only members can "ask an expert" and view the community calendar and needs assessments features. Membership is free, as are all services provided by the program.

The community's library was previously on Villa Avenue, and Lynch said she wanted to be able to increase services for adults and seniors once the more spacious location opened on Criser Road last summer.

The new 28,000-square-foot building allows the library to accommodate more events and activities than the older 11,000-square-foot building, and includes a 200-person capacity meeting room and a computer lab.

"We have the room for it now," Lynch said.

Samuels Public Library has had a 30 percent increase in traffic since 2009, and now has 52 in-house adult programs, according to Lynch.

"It is funny," Lynch said. "If you build something, they will come."

Noell said the library's current computer class students typically consist of adults who are trying to update their job skills and seniors who want to learn basic computer skills.

Noell, who has a master's in library science from Indiana University, works with seniors to introduce them to the computer essentials and how to maneuver the Internet.

Many seniors who already own personal computers are not yet proficient with e-mail or the Internet, and have found that online communication has become almost an absolute necessity with family and friends.

"They want to learn because they feel left out," Noell said. "All their children and grandchildren are using it -- I think they just feel out of the loop."

However, many seniors often find that their children and grandchildren do not have the time, or, in some cases, the patience to teach them how to use a computer.

Ann Saul, 76, and Ken Hoppe, 84, are among Samuels Public Library's dedicated group of volunteers and computer students, and are both registered for the SeniorNavigator class.

"[Noell] has really taught us quite a lot," Saul said. "I couldn't even begin to get into e-mail before."

"Every time she offers [a class], I take it," Saul said.

The SeniorNavigator class will be held Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at Samuels Public Library, 330 E. Criser Road. For more information on this or other adult programs at the library, call 635-3153.

For more information on SeniorNavigator, visit www.seniornavigator.com.

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