I’m attending one of the 18 programs PLA organized for the ALA conference in Anaheim. This program, Digital Inclusion: Libraries Transform Communities, provides practical tips for creating technology labs to enhance the traditional library model and bring in new library users. Staff from the Colorado State Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia shared lessons learned as they implemented their BTOP grants (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program).
The Philadelphia program is administered by the city, through the library and park district, and is supplemented by a Knight Foundation grant (2 year, $760K). As a result of these grants, there are 77 “hot spots” or computer centers throughout the city and a mobile center. The most important service grants provide is staffing.
Who do the computer centers serve in Philly? People who haven’t ever used the internet, job seekers, small business owners.
In Colorado job seekers are number one users. Each community decides which kind of service center model they want. Not all service centers are in libraries; some are in grocery stores, senior centers. Geographic service areas are very large, there is “lots of dirt between light bulbs,” 20% of the population has no phone service; some schools are only open 4 days per week. They have mobile service labs. Job seekers learn Word, Excel, photo editing skills, often to users have never used a mouse.
Service model for Philadelphia, the “tech mobile.” Philadelphia works with other service providers and has created a wiki that provides job seekers with resources specific to their needs. See: http://hotspots.freelibrary.wikispaces.net/welcome
How to determine where to set up tech hot spots? Go where the people are, where there are partners you can work with.
What technology is in the centers? In Philadelphia they replicate the library branch experience and go through library computer system. Computers are multi-point servers that allow administrator to control actions of users; it saves on costs and admin can be handled remotely. Typical hardware is 6-10 computers; may include laptops and ipads. In Colorado, they also replicate the branch experience and use free software (Ultra V&C) –given large geographic area, it was critical to manage remotely. They also use mobile labs for distance learning from universities. In addition to computers, they use large screen TVs for presentations and have printers. Colorado has an ADA station to increase access and made a conscious decision to improve access adoption rate for disabled. Colo. partnered with an organization that specializes in assistance to disabled and provides training for library staff, it continues to be challenging but they are making progress.
Partnerships help create advocates for the library. Your partners will better understand the library through your collaboration. A challenge is getting potential partners’ attention; they are busy. Show the benefits of the partnership. It’s on-going work, developing relationships and trust. One idea, create a letter of agreement that outlines each organizations role and responsibilities. Number one indicator as to whether a partnership is sustainable is whether key staff remain in their positions. If they leave, often the partnership will decline.
Public awareness. Reach out often to community and attend community events to raise awareness about the computer center. Usse social media to drive awareness too.
Curriculum. Adapt exisiting materials to meet the needs of your community. Determine a few core computer classes; add topics based on demand.
Staff. Provide training; give staff opporutnities to share their knowledge. stay current.
For more information about program and digital inclusion, contact:
Jennifer Donsky, Free Library of Philadelphia
donskyj at freelibrary.org
Jamie Hollier, Colorado State Library
jamie at coloradovirtuallibrary.org