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Computer literacy extends to Spanish-speaking library-users

New Spanish computer-literacy classes to begin later this year at the Tualatin library

TUALATIN - On any given night at the Tualatin library, usually a dozen of 16 computer-users are Hispanic. They surf the Internet looking for online job applications, they use Microsoft Word for help on resume writing, and they often have a child sitting right next to them telling them how to use the computer.

'This is where they get their information,' said the library's public services supervisor, Tudy Schiveley, about the city's growing Hispanic population.

'And it's free. Where else can they go? Most of them don't have computers at home. And we're hoping that the new computer classes will help them even more.'

The Tualatin Public Library plans to offer a five-class series on computer basics in Spanish beginning when the new expanded library opens in the fall. The class will be funded through a $6,000 Verizon Foundation grant awarded to the program through the Friends of the Tualatin Library, a nonprofit organization that supports library activities.

The series will mirror the lessons taught in the English-speaking computer basics classes offered at the library this year, which was also funded by a Verizon grant.

The success of the Tualatin library's computer basics classes was a bit of surprise to Schiveley. The library offered each of four classes twice a month, and the classes were usually full.

The only thing that could make it more popular, according to library patrons, would be if it were offered in Spanish.

'It's been a hurdle getting Spanish-speaking people into the library for any purpose. There's just an inherit mistrust. I mean, we (the library) are government,' Schiveley said.

So hearing of an interest from Spanish-speaking library patrons about a program that would draw them into the library, Schiveley said the idea for a Spanish computer-literacy class was developed.

The Verizon Foundation provides cash grants in three areas: literacy, domestic-violence prevention and technology that enhances health care. This year the foundation received 75 grant requests from organizations in Oregon and awarded $6,000 grants to 15 organizations.

Tualatin's Spanish computer-literacy program was chosen because it filled an important need in the community, said Verizon external affairs manager Renee Willer.

The $6,000 grant covers the cost of developing the program, purchasing instructional software and paying staff to actually teach the classes. Two bilingual library employees have already agreed to help instruct and develop the classes.

'Immigrants tend to have less education, because they have less access to computers,' said library assistant Erica Kindrick, one of the women who will be teaching the new Spanish computer-literacy classes.

'They see the computers, but they can't use them. Still we expect people to have a basic understanding of computers. Yet everything is done in English,' said Kindrick, a former employment specialist who used to help immigrant farm-workers through a nonprofit organization.

Kindrick calls the computer basics classes for Spanish-speaking adults important not only to help give a leg up to Spanish-speaking job seekers but to parents.

Schiveley noted that most Spanish-speaking adults who use the library's computers also have a child in attendance. The child gives the adult instructions, Schiveley said, on how to navigate the computer.

Kindrick said that the language barrier creates a similar dependency with parent and child when it comes to schoolwork and the correct use of Web sites.

'With a language barrier, parents just have to trust that their kids are being honest. But the more parents know, the more parents can know what their kids are doing,' Kindrick said.