Category Archives: Library and Community

The Computer Class: The Fun of Discovering Information

The senior patrons in Seattle Public Library are learning basic computer skills in the computer class taught in Chinese language. They have learned about the computer, word processing, and how to search for information on the web. There are three details that I found most interesting.

“Airline information.”

We used “weather” as a key word example, but the patrons asked about “airline information”. It was a little surprising. We tried to show them how to use the search tools on the website of airline companies. They were good, but most of them in the US don’t provide instructions in Chinese language. It should not be lots of work load to translate the information, but maybe the airlines just haven’t realized such needs from the senior foreign users with limited English and computer skills.

Music fans

The patrons got really excited when they found that they could listen to Chinese songs online. When the song “Tian Mimi (Sweet)” by Lijun Deng was played, the classroom was immediately filled with joy. They went on to search for the songs they love, or loved. There are patrons from HongKong, Taiwan, and the mainland, and they each looked for the songs in their regions. Interestingly, most of the pop music from HongKong and Taiwan were also very popular in China Mainland, so it turned out the songs they chose were well known to all. Music has no boundaries.

Taking Notes

Some patrons enjoy taking notes. They took notes from the printed materials handed out to them. Sometimes I felt that it was not necessary to take notes word by word, simply copying from the materials they have, but I wouldn’t try to disturb them, because they each has their own learning habits. Maybe taking notes helps them memorize, or be focused? Or it could be a habit they have always used. Respect the senior’s wise.

The computer class at the Spl has provided a great way of gaining knowledge and information for the senior foreign patrons!


The Library, Dressing Codes, and Easy Access

(the bronze sculpture in a public library in Shanghai,  photos from

One day, I had a pleasant talk with a Librarian at Seattle Public Library. We talked about the dressing codes for patrons and the location of international language department at the library, and I found something interesting.

I mentioned a library in Shanghai, China, where the international language department is located on the 8th floor, above all the other reading rooms, specially furnished like a private study room, and exclusively opened to foreigners. In contrast, at the Seattle Public Library, the international language department is on the ground floor, where everybody can come up for information and services.

(the international language department of a library in Shanghai,  photos from

I asked him, “What do you think is the consideration? Is it about equality?”

He smiled. “Well, the word equality is too big. I’d rather say it’s for easy access.”

“Yes, easy access!”  I nodded, “It’s on the ground floor so that people can find it easily.”

“And it’s convenient for the senior patrons and the physically challenged ones. As to the library you described, it is trying to show the best to the world.” he said with a witty smile, “That’s why it’s luxurious.”

“And that’s why it’s called ‘China Window’.” I said, and went on with another question, “Do we have dressing codes for patrons? In the library I just mentioned, patrons wearing tank tops, shorts, and slippers are not allowed to enter. “

In fact, this dressing code is commonly seen in China’s many public libraries. I searched online and found the similar regulations of “dressing neatly” on lots of libraries’ websites. Here is a true story. My friend Wang wanted to study in the library, but he was stopped by the safeguard at the entrance for wearing a sports vest, shorts, and flip-flops. In the end, he had to go home and change into some more formal T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.

“Yes, we do have.” He thought for a second and answered seriously, “They can’t be barefoot, or wear nothing.” That was a joke, and we both laughed.

(the building, lobby, and general reading room of a library in Shanghai, photos from )

The Computer Class: Getting to Know Senior Patrons

The Computer Class in Chinese is a program offered by the World Language Department of Seattle Public Library. In the class, patrons will learn basic computer skills such as how to find information online. All classes are taught in Chinese Mandarin.

Who will come to the class? What are they going to do with the skills gained? After talking with the Librarian in charge of this program, I got the answer.

Q: Who regularly come to the program?

A: Most of them are Chinese senior people.

Q: Do they come to the US to live with their children who work in the US?

A: Some people live with their children, and some live by themselves.

Q: Why are they eager to learn Computer skills?

A: They learn Computer skills mainly for three purposes:

  1. To send e-mails with friends and relatives in China
  2. To read online news in Chinese
  3. To watch online videos and teleplays

The Three Purposes

The primary purpose is to send e-mails. The senior Chinese patrons not only enjoy sending and receiving personal e-mails, but also enjoy forwarding to their friends some interesting e-mails, such as funny pictures and popular web-posts. For many of them, browsing the internet becomes a new hobby. They are so excited about getting information online that they sometimes send what they find funny to their teacher, the Librarian in charge of the Computer Class, to share their happiness.

The second purpose is to read online news. Although there are several newspapers that report news in Chinese language, lots of the senior people prefer reading the news online. After all, in a web world where people are used to searching for information online, there are no reasons for the senior immigrants to be left behind.

The third purpose is a little surprising to me. I had expected to hear the first two, but almost forgot the fact that senior immigrants also need entertainment. Moreover, people sometimes make the mistake of assuming senior people over a certain age are no longer ready to learn new knowledge, but in fact, they are very eager to learn, and they cherish the opportunity a lot.

In China, there are colleges specially set up for senior people in many cities. Lots of retired people would register in these colleges and take classes of dancing, painting, calligraphy, playing musical instruments, playing chess, English language, and poem writing. It seems that, after many years of hard work and taking care of the family, they finally have the chance to learn something they are interested in and devote some time in their own hobbies. The college for seniors provides an ideal place for senior people in China to meet friends, make new friends, learn new knowledge, and keep pace with the advance of modern society. However, when the senior people move to the US, they are not only away from their friends and close relatives, but also away from many social activities that they used to join in. Thus, some of them turn to the entertainment online as a diversion. They could watch Chinese teleplays and movies, listen to music, and play computer games such as poker and mahjong.

Beyond the Three Purposes

Another interesting detail is that many of the senior patrons like to call the Librarian “Teacher” instead of her name, and they always show lots of modesty in class. They carefully take notes on a notebook and raise hands to ask questions, like what the pupils do in a primary school class.

I find this detail very touching. Maybe that’s why they especially cherish this chance to learn. Maybe the Computer Class and other educational programs at the public library could fulfill some part in their hearts that was once missing. It could be a dream of going back to school, having a teacher, or just being a good student once again.