By TERRI HARBER
Perry Stokes, right, talks with Jim White via Skype, an Internet-based teleconference program now available at the public libraries in Baker City and Halfway. White has used Skypeto talk to his son, who has served in the military both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Baker County residents now have free access to Skype, an Internet-based program that provides users with live voice and video connections as well as instant messaging.
The public libraries in Baker City and Halfway each have one computer set up with a web camera and microphone for this purpose. And the systems are set up in small rooms so other library patrons won’t be bothered by users’ online conversations.
“You can use Skype to see and talk to friends or family members around the world with both video and audio,” according to Perry Stokes, director of the Baker County Library District.
Use of Skype is free in most cases. Exceptions are when communicating among multiple locations and calling directly to a telephone. These uses will require a credit card payment to make the connection.
The system has been tested for about a month and is now available to library users, Stokes said.
He describes the Skype rooms as places that serve a similar purpose as phone booths did in the past.
Stokes said people who will especially enjoy using it are those with friends and relatives in the military — even in the most remote locations. People also can reach loved ones who live far away without paying high telephone bills or obtaining the equipment necessary to use the technology.
People needing to teleconference for business who don't have the means or equipment also will benefit.
Public libraries across the country are providing Skype. Librarians have devised a variety of creative ways to use the technology.
Some libraries use Skype to provide community members with interesting guests who wouldn’t normally visit these locations, such as authors, poets, musicians or other lecturers and experts.
Other libraries allow patrons at various branches to communicate through Skype for book club meetings and other functions.
People who want to use Skype at the library branches in Baker City and Halfway must be at least 17 years old and are required to provide a library card or government-issued identification.
Those seeking to use it also must have a Skype profile already created before checking in at the service desk at either branch.
There is a user time limit of two hours, Stokes said.
A time-saving tip: Bring the contact information for the person or people with whom you want to communicate.
Stokes also suggests that users set communications appointments by email ahead of time with those they want to reach. This will ensure that all parties connect.
The library has had a videoconferencing system for about five years but Skype is “much more versatile,” Stokes said.
The program that enables the communications was free to the library district. The equipment cost about $1,000 — money in the current budget for technology expenses, he said.
The next two library branches in Baker County slated to offer Skype will be Haines and Sumpter.
Expanding to these locations would be financed using budget money from the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2012. Testing also would be needed before these possible locations could offer the service, Stokes said.
Call your local public library branch for details about Skype. Those unfamiliar with it can also schedule a tutorial appointment at the library where they'll use it.
The Baker City branch telephone number is 541-523-6419. Dial 541-742-5279 to reach the Halfway branch.