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Canada Seniors eager to surf the Net find help is just a click away

Unlike so many seniors, Eugene MacDonald is not afraid of the mouse at his fingertips.

The 89-year-old's eyes widen in wonder and fascination at what appears on his computer screen with a simple click. He's a little hesitant, admitting, "I'm a bit confused." But, steadfastly, he carries on.

He's in a Toronto Public Library program that teaches seniors how to surf the Internet.

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On the computer behind him, Helen Wise, 71, is itching to learn about e-mail so she can communicate electronically with faraway family and friends. Her 81-year-old husband, Bob, sitting beside her, eagerly clicks away on the mouse to access a search engine, following the instructor's directions. And Roger Broadbent, at 70, is among the youngest of the nine people taking the class, which they say helps them lose their fear of the technology their grandchildren have easily embraced.

"My grandchild is comfortable with it and it makes me feel a bit inadequate," Ms. Wise said. "I hope to use the Internet for all the things it can do."

The seniors' enthusiasm to keep learning and expanding their horizon, delights library staff. "It's easier to teach seniors," says Phyllis Jacklin, who taught the course last year. "They're the ideal student because they're motivated, enthusiastic and patient."

The library set up the free program two years ago in response to requests from seniors interested in learning to surf. It is strictly for people 50 and older, although most participants are in their late 60s or 70s. Mr. MacDonald is the oldest pupil to date.

The Web Basics for Seniors program has been in high demand from the outset and is almost always full, said Susan Back, manager of access services at the Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street. She describes the course as "a real success story."

In addition to the main library, computer training courses for seniors are offered at 10 branches across the city.

At the reference library, 267 seniors took the four-hour long course last year. Offered 11 times a year, the course is two sessions, the first being a prerequisite for the second. Fourteen students can be accommodated at a time. An instructor and an assistant teach the course and give individual help. Attendance figures for the branch programs are not available.

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Seniors who have never turned on a computer can sign up for a tutorial course where library staff provide one-on-one instruction. Upon completion, they can register for the basics course.

After acquiring some computer skills, seniors can practice at a drop-in program held every two weeks. Three instructors are available to offer guidance and answer questions.

The drop-in program at the reference library can accommodate 27 people each session. It had 616 drop-ins last year.

Mr. Broadbent was given his daughter's laptop computer a year ago. But not knowing what to do with it, other than how to turn it on, he used it to play games. Although initially scared that he might cause the library computer to crash, he has gained confidence. "I can drag the mouse now," he said.

Mr. MacDonald has only praise for the course. "I appreciate the library's effort to keep people like me active," he said.

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