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You don't have to own a computer to use the Internet. Public libraries in Maryland have embraced this new communcations medium to the point where most major public libraries have computers set aside so that their patrons can browse the Web for free. They sometimes also offer free classes in basic computer skills so that getting up to speed is easy.
The best way to find out what's available in your county is to ask a librarian at the public library you usually visit. In some cases, there may be a larger branch library nearby that has more resources for you. A slightly longer drive might be worth the trouble.
Here are some pointers on taking advantage of the free resources public libraries offer you:
- In some libraries, you'll have to sign up to use a computer. This is to ensure that everybody who wants to use one gets a fair shot at it - first come, first served. If you can, try visiting when the library won't be as busy. The library will probably also impose a time limit on each session, so that everyone has a chance to use the computers. Planning ahead means that you'll be able to make the best use of your time.
- Some libraries also have software like Microsoft Office installed which your child can use to write papers and reports. You can probably find some uses for it, too - all you need is a floppy disk to save your files. You can pick up a pack of 10 disks for about $5.
- If you have a computer at home - even a very old one - and a modem connected to your phone line, you can get on the Internet for free. The Sailor network offers free Internet access to all Marylanders. The catch is that Sailor only gives you a text-only view onto the Internet. Web pages won't look as spiffy, but the information is still accessible. Some counties, however, have started to offer accounts that can give you full-fledged Internet access. See the links below for more information on how to get set up.
- You can even get an email account for free, too. The major free email providers like Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail are trying to get their customers to pay for extra features, but if you're just looking for the basics, it's completely free. Check the links below for more information.
There are plenty of free and low-cost ways to get onto the Internet. Your public library is one of the best ways to take advantage of them.
For more information, try one of these links:
You'll be able to find out more about what your county's libraries offer on their Web sites. Sailor has a handy list
of each county library system's Web site.
- To get set up with text-only access to the Internet through Sailor, visit this page. It has instructions on how to get set up with operating systems as old as Windows 3. To find out if you can get full Internet access, take a look at Sailor's page on Cruise Accounts.
- Yahoo! has an exhaustive list of free Web-based email providers.