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People in need of Internet access turn to libraries

Patrons Valparaiso Public Library work computers available for public use. As more public services like health insurance  unemployment filings

Patrons of the Valparaiso Public Library work on computers available for public use. As more public services like health insurance and unemployment filings move online, libraries continue to see increased need for Internet access. | Matt Mikus~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 30, 2013 6:36AM



As our lives become more connected to the Internet, libraries are providing a service invaluable for those who don’t have a connection at home.

Library computers often are used for signing up to services like unemployment benefits or filing taxes. And with the Affordable Care Act, those who plan to buy insurance through online health care exchanges may fined a visit to the library the most convenient way to accomplish that.

About 27.6 percent of households in the country do not have high-speed internet access as of Oct. 2012, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

That’s a step up from about 30 percent in 2011.

Anna Grandfield, associate director of the Lake County Public Library, said she often has computer users come in to file for unemployment benefits. The library even adjusted its hours on Sunday to allow people to come in to meet the deadlines on Sundays.

As the health care law, also called Obamacare, comes into effect, Grandfield expects that many people will come to librarians with questions.

“They’re saying people should use public library resources to sign up,” Grandfield said. “So now I have to make sure my librarians are trained under ACA and know how the exchanges work.”

Mamie Bittner, the director of communications and government affairs for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, estimates that in one year, 28 million people used library computers to find information on health and wellness, and expect that use to increase when enrollment in insurance opens Oct. 1.

“Many libraries expect that patrons will continue to come to the library for answers to their questions about the upcoming open enrollment,” Bittner said.

To help keep librarians informed, IMLS and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services will partner to provide seminars for librarians, and offer fact sheets and links to more information at their website.

“It’s just like with taxes, they come in and either get their forms or file their taxes. We can’t offer tax advice or guidance. This would be the same thing, patrons can come in and sign up for health insurance, but there’s no way we can know what their specific questions.”

Associate Director of the Porter County Public Library Phyllis Nelson said that currently the library has not heard much about implementing the health care law, but as they receive more information, they’ll make sure to help keep their patrons informed.

“It’s just like with taxes, they come in and either get their forms or file their taxes. We can’t offer tax advice or guidance. This would be the same thing, patrons can come in and sign up for health insurance, but there’s no way we can know what their specific needs.”



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