Flu and the digital divide

I’m particularly sensitive to information and connections that can only be had through the Internet. In the public library we see people every day who come in with something written on a scrap of paper – an Internet or E-mail address they heard on TV for something they want to know. Unfortunately, the address they’ve written is often wrong, and library staff has to play detective to help them find their needed information. Amazingly, the staff is pretty often successful.

Tonight’s news reported that now the Digital Divide affects peoples’ ability to get a flu shot. Park Nicollet health care system received a shipment of H1N1 flu vaccine and set up an appointment line. There were so many phone calls that they had to shut down phone appointments, and now the only way to get an appointment is by sending an E-mail. Walk-ins will not be accepted.

Where will people turn? I hope to their public library. But will we able to handle it? I don’t know. Limited hours and a finite number of PCs will limit their access. Many don’t know how to use a computer, or have an E-mail account from which to send an E-mail. Staff are stretched thin. Will they have time to help people set up E-mail accounts and send the E-mail to get an appointment for a flu shot? I don’t know. The article doesn’t say, but I assume that Park Nicollet will send an appointment by a return E-mail. That means that the person who wants a flu shot will need to check that possibly new E-mail account again (and again?)

Be the Bridge

On Friday, when I was in our northernmost library I saw terrific customer service — and an example of the library being the bridge over the technology divide.

A man came in who needed his time sheet FAXed to his employer. The FAX machine was broken at his customary workforce center and he came to the library. Incidentally, the library deserves another attaboy for having positioned itself as a go-to place.

The Branch Manager told the man that the charge for sending FAXes was $2. The man said he didn’t have $2, and could not cash a check, since he didn’t have an account in town. Watching from a short distance away, I could see the desperation in his face and body language. Since Friday was my pay-date, I could identify with how important it was for him to be paid. In truth, I’ll bet his immediate need for a pay-check probably was more acute than mine.

The Branch Manager did what I see as the right thing — she treated him with respect, offered assistance, and sent the FAX and told him to pay her when he could. Wow! Congrats, MB. I’m proud of you and our libraries!

Minnesota history made today

8-1-07 — the date the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis went down. I can’t remember the last time I drove across the bridge, but I’ll sure remember the day it fell. I’m praying for everyone, and wondering if friends or family were on the bridge when it went down.

It’s been over 4 hours, and except for a short outing with my dog Lucky, who doesn’t let me miss our evening walk, I haven’t strayed far from the TV. Recently we’ve had news conferences and everyone has been saying “check our website” — for emergency information, for traffic routes to get downtown now that a major route has disappeared, for victim contact information. It strikes me that this is yet another example of the Digital Divide between those of us who have computers and Internet accounts and those who don’t.

Offered websites:
City of Minneapolis Website