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Libraries to upgrade computers

The wait for public access computers in Citrus is getting shorter, thanks to a $37,500 grant. Newer, zippier models will replace and supplement old ones.

By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published August 11, 2006


Surfing the Internet at Citrus County libraries will be faster and easier, thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

County commissioners authorized a $37,500 grant Tuesday that will allow Citrus County libraries to purchase at least 25 new public access computers.

That means library officials can replace about 20 old computers and add new machines to their fleet of 55 public access computers, according to Assistant Director of Library Services Eric Head.

"We're going to buy as many computers as we can," he said.

He said library staffers have just started receiving and installing the new computers - "top of the line" Dell models with flat-screen monitors.

Public computer areas have become some of the most popular spots at Citrus libraries, with 80 to 100 percent of the computers in use at any given time.

This is the second grant the county's libraries have received from the Gates Foundation, started by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates.

In 2000, a $78,815 grant allowed officials to buy 20 Pentium III computers. Microsoft also donated $1,700 software packages for each computer.

The foundation's U.S. Library Program aims to provide greater Internet access in libraries across the country.

Citrus libraries will use grant money from the foundation this year to replace the computers purchased in 2000 and buy new machines.

The grant is only one part of several major technology changes at the library, spokesman Jim Ehlers said. This week, crews are installing new software that helps monitor access to computers.

Library cards and personal identification numbers will be used to log into computers, and patrons waiting for a spot can sign on to an automated list.

The system - dubbed SAM, or Smart Access Manager - has been installed at the Central Ridge Library, Coastal Region Library and Homosassa Public Library.

Public computers at the Lakes Region Library and the Floral City Public Library will be unavailable today while crews install the new software.

Wednesday afternoon the public computer area at the Lakes Region Library was packed as steady streams of people signed in to use machines.

"There's days when you have a lot of people waiting," library volunteer Joyce Werner said.

Michael Pugh, 19, of Inverness said he comes to the library at least once a week to check his e-mail and communicate with friends.

A few computers away, his fiancee, Christine Shipman, 20, was updating her MySpace profile.

Victoria Prater, 48, was checking her e-mail. Prater, who moved to Inverness a week and a half ago, said the public computers have helped her settle in while she waits for Internet access to be installed in her new home.

"I love them," she said. "This has been a great place where I can come and check everything and not get behind."

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.

[Last modified August 11, 2006, 06:38:20]


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