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Libraries offer online on-ramp

For the non-Net-savvy, the Hernando County Public Library System has classes to point and click them in the right direction.

In the three days since Edward Herring bought a computer, he already has considered throwing it out the window. More than once.

He bought it intending to get racing and lottery results off the Internet, but navigating the information superhighway proved more of a challenge than the retired Ridge Manor resident had bargained for.

"I called up Gateway and told them, "You forgot to send a big hammer with this,' " he said.

But Herring has found a new place to turn to when he gets frustrated: the Hernando County Public Library System.

Herring recently joined about a dozen other patrons crowded around four new computers in the Lykes Memorial Library on Howell Avenue for a demonstration on how to get around a host of software programs and the Internet. The computers came courtesy of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, named for the Microsoft founder and his wife.

Dale Jensen, a trainer with the foundation, put his audience at ease by starting the lesson at ground zero.

"There's no way you can break them," he said to the group, made up mostly of retirees. "They're pretty well foolproof."

Jean Czyznik slid into one of the work stations and promptly clicked on an Encarta encyclopedia entry on rap music.

"Do you want to learn about rap?" Jensen asked her.

"No way," she said.

Meanwhile, other new users shouted out questions such as, "Are there two sides to the mouse? Which one do you click?" and "How do you know when you're right or wrong?"

Interim library director Barbara Schiflett said the grant has allowed the library system to add 10 computers to the 15 already in place at its six branches. In addition to the four in Lykes, the main library in Brooksville, the system put two new computers each in its Little Rock Cannery, Istachatta and East Hernando locations.

A separate grant from the Gates Foundation financed a learning lab with 11 new computers in the West Hernando/Staffordene T. Foggia Library, where free classes on the Internet, resume preparation and even how to use a mouse are set to begin in mid-March. Together, the grants totalled more than $68,000, Schiflett said.

"We have had such an enormous demand for the Internet and we have not been able to keep up with it," she said. "It's incredible."

Schiflett said the grants are awarded to libraries with the goal of improving Internet access in areas that otherwise would have relatively few Internet users. Lykes Memorial is one of 11,000 libraries nationwide set to benefit from the foundation during the next three years, Jensen said.

Systems librarian Larry Pytlak said the new computers come with children's games and educational software, reference software, spreadsheets and word processing programs in addition to being Internet-ready. One computer in Lykes will be dedicated to the children's area but will not have access to the Internet, Pytlak said.

"It gives people the opportunity, especially the ones that don't have computers, to come down and sit around and play with them a little," he said. "It'll add a lot to the locations."

Herring and his neighbor, Judy Easterling, said they can hardly wait to sign up for classes.

"I'm having a ball with it," Herring said. "It hasn't driven me completely crazy yet."