Public libraries have been preparing themselves for what many believe could be a surge in visitors as online health insurance exchanges open under the Affordable Care Act.
“In large swaths of Georgia, the only place you can get free internet is at your public library,” said Alan Harkness, director of the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries in Columbus.
But internet connectivity is not only an issue in more rural portions of the state.
“In the metro and in the urban areas, what can happen is that maybe there are bountiful resources, but are they available? Are they free? Are they something you know about?” emphasized Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System Interim Director Anne Haimes. “A lot of people who do not have internet access at home, who do not have a computer at home, will turn to the library first for information.”
Libraries, Haimes explained, are also one of the few places where employee can offer technical assistance to people who are not familiar with computers.
“Our staff are not experts, but they know where to find information about the Affordable Care Act. They know who to direct our patrons to should they have questions and they definitely are experts on how to use the computer and that’s I think where we’re thinking our help will be most needed,” Haimes explained.
Public libraries have a history of helping disconnected people get online. Haimes said people turn to libraries every day for job search assistance or other internet needs.
“Many of us remember back after Hurricane Katrina when folks wanted to fill out their FEMA forms and public libraries all over the southeast were just inundated with people and I don’t know that we’re going to have that level of demand, but if we do, we’ll adjust accordingly,” said Harkness.