South Florida libraries offer social media and computer courses for seniors

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - With a little bit of hesitancy and a lot of questions, a group of students plunged into the world of Facebook at the North Regional Broward County Library.

The course is one of the many classes offered at eight libraries across the county in partnership with the OASIS Institute, a nonprofit organization with the mission of helping those older than 50 stay healthy as they get older.

The partnership began three years ago, and the classes are taught through a grant, said Hayley St. John-Ayre, administrative coordinator for Broward County Libraries.

In Palm Beach COunty, libraries target the widest audience possible for their classes, but older adults make up the majority of participants, said Tom Cipullo, electronic resources coordinator and serials department supervisor with Palm Beach County Library System.

Topics include the basics of computers, software programs and using social media websites.

David Van Wormer, 73, walks around with "Twitter for Dummies" in his backpack and is already signed up for the Twitter course taught at the library.

"I learn everything by hunting and picking up by myself," said Van Wormer, of Pompano Beach. "Instead of hunting like a stupid pig, I figure I should learn and make it a more automatic response."

Carole Goldberg teaches Facebook and email courses. She's been a volunteer for almost two years.

"I like the fact that people my age are interested in technology," said Goldberg, 66. "Not everybody is skeptical, but skeptical people tend to be more comfortable after class."

The classes are taught by computer-savvy volunteers. There are 20 volunteers across the eight locations, St. John-Ayre said.

Goldberg describes the Facebook course as a niche class; it only has seven students. Many of her students are nervous about social media, but they try it anyway, she said.

"I've got some people I don't even like," student Chris Sabin said of some of his Facebook friends during the class.

The 69-year-old from Coral Springs is already a Facebook member but says is uncertain about keeping his profile page active. He's taken several computer courses — including some more than once — at the library because his "memory is not so hot."

Evaluations completed at the end of the courses show that more that 61 percent of students are older than 61 since the courses were first offered.

The classes with the highest attendance rates are at the Hollywood, Tamarac and the North Regional locations.

Since 2010, more than 5,000 students have taken the courses, said St. John-Ayre.

"We started out with one location and as we got more comfortable we expanded," St. John-Ayre said.

In 2011, more than 3,000 people took courses to improve their computer and online skills. By May 2012, more than 1,500 people had participated.

"Students enjoy it. It keeps them motivated and it gets them out of the house,"said Goldberg. "It keeps them current."


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