Need tech help? Try your local library


It was free, but Gail Cogen wanted nothing more than to get it removed. 

Cogen’s unwanted computer guest was an anti-virus program she downloaded that was nothing like she expected. And even after visiting several stores like Staples for help, it seemed no one was going to be able to help her. 

That is until she went to the Spuyten Duyvil Library, a place she already visits at least twice each week, and out of frustration asked senior librarian Joshua Soule for help. 

“He was able to go in there, and it took him some time, but he did remove it,” Cogen said.

Soule teaches computer courses at the West 235th Street branch, but also is a help desk of sorts for patrons needing help with portable electronic devices like e-readers and laptops. And it’s allowing the library to expand beyond simply checking out materials or providing computer classes — it’s becoming known as the place to keep just about everything technical running smoothly. 

“I’m pretty savvy, but this one particular issue I had I just wanted additional support,” said Jennifer Viola, who recently sought help removing two pages from a PDF document at the library. In fact, Viola added, Soule helped her far more quickly than simply doing a Google search. 

The weekly sessions help a lot of people, Soule said, but it gives him the opportunity to play with computers and other gadgets, a love dating back to his childhood.

“I’ve been using computers since my father had an old Apple IIe in the basement,” Soule said. He teaches courses like Microsoft Word and Excel basics computer classes at the branch. Through the one-on-one help sessions, Soule can assist between two and five people. 

That doesn’t even include some of the quick questions some cardholders bring up during the week as well. 

Part of serving the community is being on the forefront of technology, said Rebecca Brown-Barbier, Riverdale’s library manager. That means people working at different branches are trained on how to navigate the electronic devices clients use to access branch materials. Because of that knowledge, staffers can help patrons when it comes to their own devices.

At the Mosholu Avenue branch, those workers answer questions ranging from how to access Kanopy — the library’s free online video streaming service — or getting questions about viewing branch materials on electronic devices. For those with more extensive questions, patrons need to schedule a one-on-one appointment in advance. 

Sometimes the requests for help are not always library related, Brown-Barbier said.

“We had someone come in and they wanted to order (health care) supplies for their mother via the internet,” Brown-Barbier said. Around the holidays, the branch is likely to see more cardholders stopping by with questions on how to download photos. 

For patrons like Cogen, it’s local libraries going the extra mile to address the needs of those walking through the front door, offering more than helping her find a favorite book. 

“As librarians, our core values are to be resourceful, be helpful and be curious,” Brown_Barbier said. “But also we’re here to serve the community.”