By Benjamin Joe
The program is called the BTOP Express – Better Technology, Onsite and Personal. It provides general computer training throughout the NIOGA Library System. At a recent Town Board meeting in Wheatfield, Sara Taylor, a BTOP e-mobile trainer, spoke to Supervisor Don MacSwan and councilmen regarding bringing the program to the residents, despite the town’s lack of a library.
She asked for a room to teach in and a point of contact to schedule more digital literary classes. MacSwan recommended the Community Center at 2790 Church Road and Mike Ranalli, recreation director, as a point of contact.
“NIOGA hadn’t had a program like this, ever,” Taylor said later. “I have 10 laptops and I call it a traveling circus, affectionately. (It’s a) traveling mobile lab and people can set up a request for it (to visit) through BTOP. Usually it’s through libraries, but it can be other entities like the Niagara-Wheatfield’s continued education (program) or the Town Hall. I’ve been doing classes at the North Tonawanda Library and all of our libraries through the Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties now for about nine years.”
The mission of BTOP Express is to provide vulnerable populations within the NIOGA Library System service area with free broadband access, using state of the art technology to increase individuals’ knowledge of employment requirements and resources and improve their computer skills through onsite, personal training.
“The classes have been ongoing since 2011,” Taylor said to the board. “Because I’m one person for three counties, we usually end up twice a month. So, up to four classes. The classes are about two hours, apiece. That can be modified and there would be up to four classes a month. So, two on one day, two on another day. I work Saturdays, as well.”
The programs BTOP Express offers include instructional classes, as well as workshops to bring residents “up to speed” according to a brochure provided by Taylor. BTOP also works with job fairs, festivals and community events. It hosts free workshops throughout Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties.
“We started in 2011,” Taylor said. “I was originally hired with a grant from the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment ACT) funds from 2009. It was a federal grant that went to states, and the NIOGA Library System applied for it and they got the grant. We got the equipment, the mobile lab and myself to teach.”
In total, the program has served over 8,000 patrons.
“I work for the NIOGA Library System, so the system supports all of our member libraries,” Taylor explained. “There’s 21 different libraries through the three counties and then including the LaSalle branch, that’s 22 different libraries. (It’s also) for the workforce development sites … there’s one in Albany and there’s one in Batavia that I’ve been teaching at.”
“People who want to update or learn, especially, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, if you do any word processing or spreadsheets programs. Those are the number one and two skills for people who are looking for jobs.”
“It’s open to anyone who wants to come,” she continued. “You don’t have to have a card, you don’t have to belong to the system. If you hear about it and you want to step in, come on in.”
The brochure reads, “NIOGA is one of five e-mobile computing training units with high speed broadband services being deployed in rural locations and underserved communities.
“The e-mobile and public access computer centers will provide online access to job search resources, as well as federal, state and local e-government resources.”
Taylor said the first places she usually approaches are the libraries, but she also goes to workforce development sites and senior centers.
“Wheatfield doesn’t have a library itself, but they are a large municipality,” she said. “We’d like to extend our service and let the residents know that the libraries are out there. When I talked to our executive director, Tom Bindeman, he said to do this for outreach and see if you can talk to the board and see what you can get drum up in the Town of Wheatfield, rather than just going to either Sanborn or to North Tonawanda. I made a few calls. I talked to the town clerk; I talked to a few other people. Wrote a letter and then I got invited to speak to the board.”
Taylor said she’s looking for administrators to book her and her e-mobile experience for “their people.”
Knowing that a group of people is coming is a big help.
“If you’re willing to learn, I can teach just about anybody. You can come in; you can bring in your own device. I also have wireless internet; I have hot spots that I bring,” she said. “I can do more formal classes on the computers, or I can do more informal where I go round-robin around the table. People say, ‘Well, my kids know I like to read and they got me this Paperwhite (tablet). I don’t know what to do with it.’ We can go from there.”