I need a champion.
Who is going to fight for Gerald? or Janine? or Rachel? Or the lady with knitted stockings and the cloche hats or the 'giggle' of girls who flock in when the school bell rings?
Levin Library has 9 computers available for public internet use. They are in constant demand and we have to ration access in order to extend the service to as many people as possible. Everyone is entitled to 30 minutes free internet each day, but additional time may be purchased for $2 a half hour, although most people who can afford to buy internet time have a computer at home anyway. This means that anyone who wants to use the internet can.
Our internet computers are in constant use from open to close, and there is usually a queue.
The computers are used by a wide range of people in our community: applying for money through studylink, typing up CVs, downloading job applications or forms from IRD and WINZ, researching family history, buying and selling on TradeMe, emailing grandkids, booking flights, paying bills with internet banking, playing games or keeping in touch through Bebo or Facebook.
Gerald, Janine and Rachel are all intellectually handicapped. Gerald can't read, but he loves steam trains, and he has borrowed every train book we have - many times - so one day we showed him Youtube. Now, every couple of days Gerald comes to the library, we set him up on Youtube with a search for steam trains and leave him to it. He has learnt how to click on the files, now, and it doesn't matter that the PCs have no sound cards because he is really good at providing the sound effects himself.
Rachel chats to her friends on MSN, and I'm not sure what Janine does yet, but she loves coming up the desk and asking for an access code which she proudly clutches as she wanders off.
Horowhenua District Council have decided that from July the Library will have to start charging for the internet, and thats just the start. We currently have to raise 15% of our operating expenditure from user charges, $150,000, but last month Council decided that we need to raise between 20% and 25%, $200,000 - $250,000.
The Council's LTCCP is being released this week for public consultation. That means we have 1 month to let Council know whether we think this is acceptable to ratepayers or not.
The school girls won't write a submission to the LTCCP, or the students applying to Studylink, or the young boys playing Runescape, or the old lady searching the Pipe Rolls. And nor will Gerald, Janine and Rachel.
So who will fight for them? Who will fight for their right to access technology that we all take for granted?
Will you be that champion?
[Names have been changed for privacy].