Toni Morrison. Mary-Louise Parker. Ryan Adams. These are the names that have drawn me to the Humanities and Social Sciences branch of the New York Public Library in recent years. However, when I returned to the library this time, it was not to hear a Tony Award–winning actress recite lines of her favorite poetry. This time, for the first time, I went there to take a free class: “Downloading with Confidence.”
NYPL's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, aka "the one with the lions."
photo source: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org
On a bright afternoon, I climbed the steps of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Forty-Second Street and Fifth Avenue. I entered the cool marble quiet of the library. Within minutes, I was standing before the large, illuminated glass cube that encased the South Court Classrooms. Eying the cube, I was reminded of the nearby Apple Store, the exterior of which has a similar design. I wondered if this similarity in design was intentional.
At 3:02, thirteen minutes before the session was scheduled to start, a young woman arrived with the keys to the classroom. Looking at me and the three other, much older adults who were standing in front of the cube, she smiled brightly and said, “You can come on in!”
Inside the well-lit classroom were four long rows of smooth, honey-colored wooden tables. On each table were four computers that looked somewhat new. I sat in the first row. As I took out my pen and notebook, more attendees silently entered the room and stationed themselves at computers. By the time class started at 3:15, there were thirteen students: eight women and five men. Ten students appeared to be older than fifty. I sensed that most were retirees, eager not to be left behind in the Digital Revolution.
The young woman who had unlocked the door to the classroom said “Hello” in a loud, clear voice. “My name is Brooke.” Brooke is a reference librarian in the general reference division of the New York Public Library. She was a slender woman who appeared to be in her early thirties, had straight blond hair that brushed the top of her shoulders, and was dressed casually yet professionally in a conservative grey sweater and olive-drab slacks. She adjusted her glasses and announced, “Welcome to ‘Downloading with Confidence.’”
For the next hour and fifteen minutes, Brooke gave a PowerPoint presentation on downloading digital content—e-books and audiobooks in particular. The seniors in the class were not timid about asking questions. Typical questions were “What is FAQ?” and “What’s a screen grab?” One of the better questions was “What is the difference between downloading and burning?” Brooke answered each patiently and knowledgeably. At the close of the presentation, she led a hands-on demo of the concepts she had just explained. A few students needed assistance in navigating websites, such as ones for Project Gutenberg, Adobe Digital Editions, and Google Books. However, most were quite comfortable at the computer and were fairly quick studies.
I consider myself to be comparatively tech-savvy. But sitting in the library’s classroom that afternoon, I realized there was a lot that I didn’t know about downloading. Being quite loyal to the “traditional” book, I had never even read an e-book, let alone downloaded one. So it was fascinating to learn about the various file types for e-books; for instance, I didn’t know beforehand that Amazon.com has its own, exclusive file type for its e-books (ending in “.amz”), while for most of the other electronic titles out there, there is one general file type (ending in “.epub”). It was also educational being told the pros and cons of downloading e-books to certain devices.
Naturally, Brooke showed us how to download e-books from the New York Public Library. The process seemed to be pretty straightforward; all that’s required is a library card number and a PIN, the latter of which can be obtained by contacting the library. In addition to e-books, audiobooks, music, and videos can also be downloaded from the New York Public Library’s website, Brooke excitedly pointed out. To demonstrate, she effortlessly accessed a 1930s’ Al Jolson movie, the sight of which inspired one of the elderly women in the class to start singing, “Mammy!” I chuckled.
The old and the new truly converged in the New York Public Library's classroom that afternoon: traditional ways of enjoying reading with the exploration of e-books; senior citizens becoming attuned to digital technology. Being part of this coming together helped make the “Downloading with Confidence” class a genuinely pleasant and enriching experience.