By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Want to know how to deal with difficult people?
If your problem is in customer service, you may also be interested in finding out how to come up with effective sales pitches. Or you might just decide to chill instead by picking up some meditation skills.
Whatever the need, residents can now turn to the local public library to gain the skills they want online. From accounting to team-management skills to veterinary medicine, the online continuing-education service called Universal Class offers 500 virtual courses to more than 30,000 students all over the world.
Groton Public Library has recently signed on to the service so that its patrons could access the cyber classes free. And some residents are already taking advantage of it.
The offering of Universal Class comes amid the library's ongoing efforts to transform itself as a digital information portal for its patrons.
It began allowing people to download audio books several years ago and expanded its ebook collection, including renting out some e-reader gadgets, such as a Kindle, to those who wanted to check out how ebooks work. Patrons have also been able to download music and learn foreign languages for some time now.
Librarian Susanne Olson said libraries are no longer just a place to borrow books -- they are becoming more of a community center where people come to meet others and learn. And many libraries are trying to let patrons do that in cyber space as well.
Groton library patrons don't appear to be ditching physical books for digital ones any time soon, though. Right after Universal Class started, 10 patrons took 27 different courses in November, followed by nine users taking 23 classes in December. Ereaders and ebooks are popular, but that hasn't affected the circulation of physical books.
That's probably because the number of ebooks available through the library remains limited, Olson said. There are also those who prefer "old-fashioned" CD books than downloadable ebooks because that's what they are used to. But as the ebooks collection grows and Universal Class become more publicized, Olson believe more patrons will start using such services.
To take Universal Class through the Groton Public Library's website, visit www.gpl.org.