Sunday, June 20, 2010

Vancouver Library Eliminates Public Computers for Seniors at Carnegie

A million dollars worth of City management staff put their heads together and decided that the popular public computers in the Carnegie Seniors Lounge that had been going full tilt 13 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the past 15 years, were best eliminated.

Those computers were one of the most in-demand services in the Centre. People would sign up and sit and wait for half an hour or more for their turn. Ever notice the crowd on the front steps of Carnegie in the morning when you drive by on your way to work? They're not all buying drugs; some are waiting for a security guard to swing the doors open at 9 a.m., so they can rush past him and dash downstairs to the basement Seniors Lounge and get onto a computer, ahead of the next guy. People use those computers to check email and to look for jobs on sites such as Craig's list.

But those computers had become a source of embarrassment to the million dollars worth of City Hall and Carnegie management staff, from Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty to City Manager Penny Ballem, who have been exposed for allowing security to block access to them as punishment for free speech. This harassment of people who speak up has been previously documented on this blog so I won't go over it again. But the VPL librarian, Beth Davies, and her supervisors in the VPL administration have colluded with this withholding of library services -- often it involves blocking access to the entire VPL branch at Carnegie for months or years -- and this removal of VPL computers looks like an extension of that collusion.

Now that the internet-surfing poor will have little reason to show up at the Lounge, the poor who operate more within the comfort zone of CUPE and City management will have the lounge to themselves. You can find them sitting in there any afternoon staring at the big tv, filling in the gaps between welfare cheques and staff pay cheques. Movies made available in this City government Lounge generally fall into the range of cowboys, gangsters, and that new federal government category, "busty hookers."

Now that VPL computer access in the Lounge has been eliminated in favor of allowing big screen TV access to predominate, it's important that the savings be passed on to taxpayers. The computers and the steady stream of people who came to the Centre to use them were under the supervision of Seniors Co-ordinator, Marlene Trick (formerly exposed for supervising the City's now defunct "Teddy Bear Picnics" for full grown functional adults.)

The computer program in the Seniors Lounge was also a rich source of make-work projects for Security guards who would be called to infantalize computer users who stood up to the belligerant coffee-seller, a ritual which involved security guards writing "incident reports" and executing barrings as punishments, and holding follow-up meetings. All of this will be gone now, meaning that less labour hours will be needed for the co-ordinator to co-ordinate and security guards to punish.

The cramped computer room by the bathroom at the back of the third floor at Carnegie remains open. In fact the computers in there have been replaced with new ones. But Seniors have to compete with other age groups to get onto a computer there, increasing the number of people on the waiting list. People sitting in the waiting area for their name be called to get onto a computer can sometimes get frustrated and ask the monitor questions like, "How much longer do you think I'll have to wait?," and some monitors -- not all -- get annoyed at the ongoing pressure and if a disagreement ensues, security may be called.

This tension can be expected to increase with the elimination of Seniors' computers by the million dollar management, which of course includes CUPE's Dan Tetrault who is Assistant Manager at Carnegie and, like BP CEO Tony Hayward, has a yacht which can be helpful for clearing the head of the problems of the "small people".