PARI has a number of computers available for research purposes. If you're not very computer savvy you might feel a bit intimidated but don't let that stop you. There are friendly, helpful volunteers available to help you.
The computers run the Windows (7) operating system and have a number of subscription databases available to you for free including the Library Edition of Ancestry.com, the Detroit Free Press newspapers 1831-1922, and ProQuest's Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970.
While I was at PARI I did a bit of research on the computers myself. If you've never accessed the digital collection of the Sanborn Maps, I think you'll find them interesting. I've never seen a good index for them (why is that?) but you can click around and study them and learn a lot about the neighborhoods where your ancestors lived. There's something about seeing your ancestor's home on a map that you just don't get from looking at census records. Perspective! Tip: You might want to bring a thumb/travel drive to save your maps to.
I don't know why the two major newspapers in Detroit don't have free online archives of their publications like so many other newspapers do, but they don't. The Free Press does offer online access to their archives by subscription for the years 1831-1922 and you can access that database at PARI. I gave it whirl and got mixed results. I first tried searching some of my family surnames with no luck. Then I tried searching for some businesses and churches in the city of Detroit and had better success with those. When you find an article of interest you can email yourself a copy directly from the database. It comes complete with a citation and PDF file of the article attached. Very convenient!
And then we have the Library Edition of Ancestry.com. If you're like me and you only need periodic access to the Ancestry databases this is a nice place to do that. Caution: You can get lost for hours searching on Ancestry.com and totally lose track of time, lol! I did a few quick look-ups and didn't find anything new but you never know when you will so it pays to check in from time to time.
Besides those three subscription databases you can also check out a list of all the publications available at PARI online at LibraryThing. This is handy because there are so many you could spend all afternoon looking through bookcases just to see what they've got. Even online it will take you a good while to look through the whole collection!
And I also have to mention the one online database that PARI currently has, Displaced Persons who came to the Detroit Area. This is a list of people who were originally Polish citizens but were forced to leave the country during and after WWII and came to the Detroit area. The database contains names and the DP camps where the individuals stayed prior to their immigration to the U.S. in the 1950-1956 time period.
There are a number of computers available and very comfortable chairs to sit in. You are also welcome to bring your own computers and use the WIFI access but you won't be able to access the subscription databases that way. There is lots of available workspace on tables throughout the room and ample lighting.
If you missed my previous post on the who, what, where, when, and why of PARI, you can see it here. Stay tuned for more of PARI's resources to come!
The Complete PARI Series:
PARI, Part 1, Who, What, When, Where, and Why
PARI, Part 2, The Computers and Databases
PARI, Part 3, Special Collections
PARI, Part 4, The Art
PARI, Part 5, The Wall
PARI, Part 6, The Panorama Room