Keys to the city include control, alt, and delete

You’ve heard the same travel advice I have: take along a supply of water to prevent dehydration on a long flight; make photocopies of your passport; allow an extra hour at the airport for international trips, etc.  I followed most of it, too, though unfortunately not the bit about packing an extra laptop battery.  So there I was, only two days into my stay in the UK with no computer access.

And isn’t it amazing how many uses you can discover for the internet when you can’t get to it?  Brochures for local attractions offer brief sketches, directing you to “visit our website for further details”.  That camera I purchased just prior to the trip was accompanied by a skimpy “Getting Started” flyer.  Guess where I could find more specific instructions?

Worst of all, though, was the Email Deficit.  Though 99% sure that no family or pet emergencies would occur during our absence, with no incoming evidence to the contrary I could imagine any number of dire goings-on.

And then I thought of the public library.  I’d noticed it during our first walk into Salisbury, either thanks to librarian radar or because its crisp green-and-white exterior hit a rare note of modernity amid beautifully medieval storefronts.  Like most librarians, I’m compelled to survey other operations even when I’m on vacation, but at least I try not to drag others along.  With my husband occupied at his conference, I set out for the library and approached the Reference Desk.

Are nonresidents, I inquired, able to use library internet stations?  In my usual position on the other side of the desk here in Round Rock, I can respond with a “yes”.  Now that I’m asking, I realize that it’s a significant expectation.  Computers cost money, as do connections and staff to maintain functionality.  Why should I expect to use all those services for free?

Happily, the librarian assures me that I’m welcome as a computer guest.  After supplying photo ID, I’m logged in for one 30-minute session.  That’s my limit for the day–plenty of time to email and stay connected. 

As I finish and thank the librarian, I comment that we have sometimes heard cardholders question whether these resources should be offered to outsiders when the locals can always use more time on the workstations.  “We’ve heard that, as well,” was the response.

I admired the Salisbury Library’s “Contactpoint” theme, TV-screen announcements, and clever placement of “Just Returned” racks.  Our library (amid more recently historic surroundings) is, at least for now, able to offer guests an entire hour of computer time.

Neither institution can promise a no-waiting scenario, however.   The frequency of demand and the importance of now-basic internet service prove what we’ve suspected for years–that access for all is, like beautifully preserved structures, a hallmark of civilization.

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