FINLAND
Seniors online

Finland has one of the fastest growing populations of elderly people in Western Europe. According to a report concerning information and communications technology, which was carried out by Statistics Finland, 65% percent of those between the ages of 55 and 64 and 36% of those between the ages of 65 and 74 have a computer. How many of those people who are over 74 have a computer? According to modern thinking, old age is considered to begin at the age of 75. Those who retire now and who are used to using computers will not likely give it up in their new stage of life.

I feel it is a misconception that young people know ‘everything’ about the digital world. Young digital natives were born into the world of computers. However, they use different services; Messenger and Facebook are not the first things that senior citizens need.

Courses for seniors pertaining to the use of the computer and the Internet at the Lahti City Library have been extremely popular for a long time. During the course of a year, approximately 120-140 senior citizens participate in at least a basic course. Teaching concentrates on basic use of the computer and the library’s online services.

As a teacher, I am self-educated. For me, it is an advantage to have grown up in a small village during a time when even the telephone was a rarity, let alone choosing a ring tone for it. I have learned about information technology at work like other people my age. It is not difficult, there-fore, to understand what a completely different and ‘strange’ world the Internet is. The mouse fits into the hand of a child like a glove, but an elderly person is tentative about using it and it does not easily heed to the command of shaky fingers. It is still phenomenal how you can sit in the computer room and click on icons and be on some Australian website.

The first step in the courses is to help participants over-come their fear – computers do not break easily. If you can succeed in building trust and belief that one can learn to use the computer at an older age, then it can be learned. Teaching the elderly is rewarding; it is a joy to witness how participants get enthusiastic and learn.

We provide constant support through our weekly on-duty consultation. Patrons can practice in the computer room and receive personal consultation. We have considered expanding it into an “Internet clinic”: patrons could come in with their own computers and receive more technical help as well.

The teacher must understand that presenting his/her own expertise is not the most important thing; rather, it is to generate a learning process. I have received rather descriptive comments from trainees in the library field who ask, “Can it really be that slow and require so much revision?” It is a necessary experience for those interested in the field; senior citizens form a large user group and you need the right attitude when advising them.

According to research, online banking is one of the most common reasons for purchasing a computer: “To keep up with the times”, “So I won’t be left behind as the world goes forward”. These are the comments seniors give when asked why they purchased a computer. Many use e-mail to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren. Perhaps using the Internet requires just a bit of practice. One of the grandchildren of a participant in the course said after teaching granny for 15 min., “Well now you know how to do it!”

Anni Saari
Senior Librarian
Lahti City Library

anni.saari AT lahti.fi

Senior Librarian Lahti City Library