Just over two years ago the Warwick Public Library was holding their computer classes in a small back room that wasn’t even meant for public use. The classes were always popular, filling up almost immediately after being posted. In early February 2013 the decision was made to start renovating the former café into a computer lab and meeting space.
A few months later the library received a grant from the Champlin Foundations, which was split between this project and renovating the children’s space and what was supposed to become just a computer lab became the Idea Studio.
Over $40,000 was spent to completely renovate the old café, ripping up floors, getting rid of unneeded equipment, modernizing the room with plenty of outlets and purchasing state-of-the-art technology.
Almost two years after the project was completed, the Idea Studio hosts not only computer classes but also has a 3D printer, conversion technology, crafting classes, community workbenches and is looking to expand their programs.
Jana Stevenson, deputy director for the library, said that although a new computer area was the original motivation, the Idea Studio had, over time, evolved into a “multipurpose creative space.
“It’s a hands-on space,” Evan Barta, the library’s coordinator of technology said. “People can work together in an artistic, creative way rather than a sterile one.”
Now, the library hosts several computer classes a week, and they often fill up on the day they are posted. The classes range from a four-week “Basics Boot Camp” to specific programs and starting this fall the Warwick Public Library will host certification classes.
According to Barta and Stevenson, the computer classes are predominantly seniors. So popular with seniors that the library is thinking about taking their courses to local senior centers sometime in the near future.
Many of the seniors are interested in the boot camp, where students start with just turning the computer on and are then encouraged to play around with the technology.
“If you didn’t grow up with this technology it can be hard,” Barta said. “It’s all foreign.”
Most students are interested in using email and Skype to keep in touch with their families.
Colleen Wolf, one of the instructors, said that the classes are kept relatively small so that everyone can get the help that they need and that, although the classes start off formally, by the end, once “everyone’s in their groove,” it turns into a community affair.
“When they leave they don’t only have new knowledge,” Wolf said, “they have a new friend, too. Two people find out that they both cook or walk, there’s a common interest and a new friendship.”
Stevenson said that many of the students are wary of the Internet because, “People are very aware of the dangers of the Internet, how easily you can be tricked or have your identity stolen. It feels safer to enter with this initial guidance and they really appreciate the opportunity of introduction.”
Barta said that no one reports about the person successfully banking online, the media is always sharing horror stories of stolen identities. He believes a lot of trepidation surrounding computers comes from the fact that the majority of students have lived long and successful lives without ever needing the technology.
“Initially, they think what’s the point,” he said. “But in the past few years there’s been a major shift. Even seemingly trivial things like getting a rebate can only be done online now. Insurance, Social Security, it’s all done on the Internet.”
The Idea Studio has an “open door policy” and the public is invited to come in while they’re open and practice on their technology, ask questions and just be curious. A lot of people enjoy the conversion technology to bring old records, photos and home videos into the 21st century. Everyone also seems to enjoy watching the 3D printer as well.
“We really want to utilize this space as much as possible,” Stevenson said. “Libraries see a hole in the community and they try and fill it. Where else can you find free computer classes?”
For more information visit www.warwicklibrary.org/idea-studio or call the library at 739-5440.