It's About Family

Kareem Thompson and Zlata Brooklyn Public Library Services for Older Adults Mill Basin Library Some messages travel around the world, and some go just a few feet away. As I stood next to her last week, Zlata sent me an email message from one of the public computers at Mill Basin. Attached to the message was the printed eulogy that her sister, Chava, gave for their youngest sister, Judy, who died from lung cancer last year.

The eulogy was beautiful and touching, but what is most remarkable about this story is that Zlata was able to witness her sister’s funeral live, even though Zlata was in Brooklyn and the funeral was in Israel, through the video technology of Skype.

I found out about Zlata’s technology success story a few weeks ago, when the Neighborhood Library Supervisor, Victoria Hill, sent me an email about an amazing patron at her library with a powerful story about how the library has changed her life for the better. I arranged to come to Mill Basin and interview Zlata.

Zlata was born in Poland in the 1940s, moved to Israel when she was a teenager, and then came to the United States as an adult. She worked for many years in two different sweater factories in Brooklyn, and when the second one closed, she got a job as a home attendant for elderly patients.

She fell and broke her knee last year, and had to stop working. To fill up the time, a friend suggested she go to the Mill Basin library to learn how to use a computer. Zlata wanted to learn so she could communicate with her three sisters in Israel. Her first trip to Mill Basin was the first time she had ever entered a public library.

Technology Resource Specialist, Kareem Thompson, teaches the computer classes at Mill Basin. He told me that Zlata is the best student in the class, and it was clear from watching them together that there is great playfulness and affection between them. Kareem and Zlata explored the virtual world together during and after his classes, and Zlata learned how to use You Tube and Google Earth, in addition to email and Skype. She explored, in Polish and English, topics such as cooking, jewelry, movies, music and she even found a picture of the house in Bratislava, Poland that she lived in when she was around twelve.

Her delight in these discoveries was plain to see when I interviewed her. Zlata found new ways to stay connected with the people she loves and to experience the world, along with an opportunity to master new skills and keep her mind active and sharp.

While Zlata was learning how to use the computer, her youngest sister, Judy, was getting sicker from lung cancer. The four sisters used Skype to get together frequently and share the final months of Judy’s life. And when Zlata got the news that her sister died, she knew she would not be able to attend the funeral. The day of the funeral, her grand-daughter used her smart phone to Skype with Zlata in Brooklyn, who by this time had bought her own laptop computer.

"That’s what the computer is all about. To be in touch with your loved ones, in good times and in bad times," Zlata told me. I could tell from her expression how important this experience has been for her. She genuinely appreciates the help and kindness that Kareem, Jonathan (the T4) and the other Mill Basin staff have offered her. "I used to come here like it was my home," she said, which is the highest compliment that a public library can receive.

Now that Zlata has a computer at her home, she is teaching her 84 year old husband how to use it. They play online gin rummy and other computer games together, because "your brain has to work. You have to use it or you lose it."

She misses the library, though, so she was glad to have a reason to visit again. "It’s good to see people and joke a bit." I recommended that she participate in a storytelling program that the Mill Basin library will be hosting in late April.

She might not think so, but her English is quite good, and she is a natural storyteller with an interesting story to tell. I’m glad I got to hear it in her own words, and read it in the words of her sister, Chava, who told their sister, Judy, along with everyone at the funeral, "Zlata was happy that she bought a computer and was able to see you…."





Here is a picture of Zlata on the tablet
and her three sisters in Israel. On the
other side is Zlata at the computer in
Mill Basin.

Photo at top right is Kareem and Zlata.