Menlo Park's public library contains "play" computers for the children. Two men are primarily responsible for starting the library off on this track: Bob Albrecht and Ramon Zamora. The two men also have sponsored free computer "events" at local bookstores and pizza parlors.
The children's section of the library is stocked with tape cassettes pre-programmed with games and educational material. These tapes have been especially designed for easy use by young children. Each cassette runs five minutes on a side -- to minimize searching, loading, and rewinding time. The cassettes may be checked out on a "self-serve" basis.
A young library user may have one-half hour of computer time before he must relinquish his place. If no one's waiting, he can put his own name down and "play" for another half hour. If there's a list, he can place his name at the end of it, and while waiting for his terminal time, many kids curl up with a book or magazine.
You can't just walk in off the street and use the library's computer equipment -- even though Menlo Park is known locally as "Computertown USA," or "Silicone Valley." New users take a course generally lasting less than half an hour from a TA (junior high teaching assistant).
If you pass this course, you get a little badge to pin on which states: "My computer likes me." Now you are eligible.
Since the program began, about a year ago, some 400 Menlo Park children have received their computer badges and it is not unusual for children to spend as many as six hours a week in the library.
This, of course, has upped the use of the other library facilities considerably.
The younger children generally begin by "playing" some of the simpler games. MAXIT, for example, calls for quick identification of the largest number in a random list of integers ranging from a negative 15 to a positive 15.
LUNAR LANDER involves the regulating of acceleration to control velocity, fuel usage, and speed in order to land a spacecraft safely on the moon.
TAIPAN, based on the books "Taipan" and "Dynasty," is a bit more complicated. It involves the user in the China trade in Hong Kong in the 1850s.
What if an adult wants to use the computers? He or she must be accompanied by a child!
For further information on the use of computers in a library setting, write: Computertown USA, PO Box 310, Menlo Park, Calif. 94025.