One of my hobbies at my public library job is buying affordable laptops on eBay and fixing them up. I then sell them at the same price I bought them for to people who need a laptop. When I noticed on eBay that a private school in Colorado was selling 10 Chromebooks for $500 (shipping included), I jumped on that deal. The model Chromebook they were selling was just two years old and still very usable.
18 Years Old, Homeless, and Working at the Car Wash
About a month after these Chromebooks came in, I noticed a community member about 18 years old hanging out in the library's computer rooms, where I work. I introduced myself to him and told him I was there to help. He then told me he had left home — decided to break ties with his family — and was now out on his own. His livelihood was a job he had found at a car wash.
I looked the young fellow up and down and silently asked myself, "What does he need that I can provide?" In a flash I realized what he needed. I grabbed one of the Chromebooks and said, "This is a Chromebook laptop that you are going to need. It costs $50, but you don't need to pay me today. Pay me in a few months, after you have settled down with a stable job."
Checking Email and Applying for Jobs
A Chromebook, being so light, could easily be carried by this youth in his backpack. He could use the Chromebook to check email, apply for jobs, and look for any information he might need in his life. He could also choose to return the Chromebook to me, without buying it, which would be fine with me, too.
Two months after I handed him the Chromebook, I received a call at my desk at work. "I haven't forgotten about paying you for that Chromebook. I promise I'll get to it," he said. His word was good enough for me.
Then about four months after I handed him the Chromebook, he showed up in person at the library. I asked him how he was doing and where he was staying. He answered, "I don't have a place to stay, so I'm sleeping outside." I purposely did not volunteer information about which shelters he could stay at, because he could easily ask me that question or find the answer himself using his Chromebook. He seemed somewhat at ease with his living situation, precarious as it might be.
Eight Months Later …
About eight months after I gave him the Chromebook, he stopped by to hand me cash. With a smile he explained, "I decided to return to my family. Things are going much better for me now."
I surmise his Chromebook might have served a role in helping reunite him with his family. After he broke ties with his family, it would be difficult to have a phone conversation with them. But sending and receiving email can be less emotionally "hot." So even if he had broken ties with his family, maybe he did not mind communicating via email with them.
This Is a Library, After All
Regardless, he is back with his family. I haven't met his parents or guardians, but they know that their son has someone at the public library who believes in him — who trusts him. This story would be complete if this young man returned to the library to ask me questions about anything of interest to him. The kindest thing you can say to a librarian is not "thank you." The kindest thing you can say is, "I was just wondering …" I find great rewards in mentoring youth, but please, ask me questions. This is a library, after all.
About the Author
Phil Shapiro is a librarian, educator, and technology access activist in the Washington, D.C., area. He has found inspiration in the learning that goes on at after-school programs, adult literacy organizations, public libraries, and organizations bringing music instruction and the arts to children. He is a true believer in public libraries as the central social, educational, and creative institutions in our communities.