When your laptop breaks: How to pull off a full workday on the BK Public Library’s free computers

If your laptop is working, this makes a great work space, but the public computers are there to catch you if you fall. Via Flickr user Sam Saunders.
If your laptop is working, this makes a great work space, but the public computers are there to catch you if you fall. Via Flickr user Sam Saunders.

For yet-to-be-determined reasons that may or may not have to do with spending a few blissed-out, half-working days at a surf house in Rockaway last week, my laptop stopped working suddenly. The Geniuses at the Genius bar couldn’t figure it out so they sent it off to Apple sleepaway camp, where it will either get fixed or have its first kiss with a girl named Planned Obsolescence. Freelancing and otherwise working from a laptop is a glorious feeling of freedom: your computer screen essentially turns into a mobile command center for all the aspects of the internet/life you need to keep tabs (literally!) on all day long. But what do you do when that command center goes on the fritz? And you need to keep working to do things like eat and not get thrown out of your home?

When this happened to me, instead of digging one of the lugubriously slow old laptops out of the bag I am for some reason saving in my closet, I instead decided to try out the Brooklyn Public Library’s free computer work center at the Grand Army Plaza brand. The library, as you already know, is a fully loaded center for helping you get shit done, but would it work for the hectic, crushingly busy, bouncing-from-page-to-page life of a freelance writer? It can, if you do it correctly! Here’s some key tips for how to pull off a full work day on the public computers. 

1. The computer time limit is soft

The library has about a bunch of computers set aside for various uses: 13 regular all-purpose PCs plus a few Mac and PC design stations and a scanner. You officially get 30 minutes on the public computers, which isn’t a lot of time. But if no one is waiting in the queue, the computer will keep you on for about another 1.5 hours or so. If someone is coming for your computer, you’ll get a two-minute warning to save your work. You can request another one without too long of a wait; mine was usually less than five minutes. That means a lot of logging into your email, Twitter and other accounts over and over again, which brings us to No. 2.

2. Syncing will save your life 

The library’s computers use Firefox (and Explorer too, if you’re looking for a laugh). Firefox, like Chrome, lets you sync accounts across browsers. So go ahead and create a Firefox account and save your bookmarks, passwords and browser history — it’ll save you a lot of time at each computer, allowing for smoother transitions from machine to machine. How did we even live before the cloud? (oh right, with floppy disks and emailing files to yourself). And I’m sure I don’t have to say this, but type all your stuff in Google Docs so you don’t lose it. There isn’t even a save button on Google Docs because it autosaves! Remember when you used to lose Word docs when your computer would freeze? Dark days, my friend. Dark, Microsoft-reliant days.

3. Be prepared to be productive

The library blocks some sites: Facebook, YouTube and some other streaming sites are a no-go, as well as all that porn you furiously waste time on each day when you should be working. This is actually a benefit to productivity. Since you’re on a time limit, dicking around on Facebook can be reserved for every other minute of the day when you’re dicking around on Facebook on your phone. Can you even imagine how productive people were before the internet?

5. Get lunch right in the library 

The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Cafe is right around the corner from the computer room at the main branch. It’s got sandwiches, salads, pies and coffee. Hey read a book on your lunch break, why not? Then, it’s right back to work.

4. Bring headphones

The Brooklyn Public Library is a great cross sectional meeting place of all types of Brooklynites, and as with any public space, it comes with a cacophonous symphony of sounds bouncing off the building’s cavernous walls. Screaming babies, moms screaming at their babies, people talking to themselves while checking their email; one kid next to me pulled up an unblocked game site (like this one, which I am glad exists for the sake of the kids) to play Sonic and Mario games (also glad kids are still into these) and made sound effects with his mouth the entire time. I blocked it out with WNYC on the headphones, but an Oldy McOldFace near the kid finally adulted up and ruined his fun, calling over a librarian to kick him out. Which leads to the next point:

5. Don’t be a jerk

Lots of people (just judging from the past few days’ observations) use the library’s computers to apply for jobs, check emails from family abroad, pay phone bills or just read the news they can’t get elsewhere. Everyone who is a library member has the right to use the computers and all the other amenities of the library, but no one gets to have a monopoly on them. Your fire emoji blog post about 10 ways Harambe jokes explain Donald Trump’s global security failures doesn’t take precedence. The library is a rare place where a broad cross section of your neighbors meet, the kind of mix you only find in a jury room, at the DMV or on a packed subway train. Take a second to appreciate it; maybe check out a Jane Jacobs book if you’re having trouble with that.

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