Expanding access to technology and digital skills training for rural communities
The Public Library Association (PLA) and Microsoft Corp. will increase digital skills programming and access to technology in rural communities. Through $400,000 donated by Microsoft Philanthropies, PLA will provide hardware and digital skills training and resources to rural libraries, helping rural populations reap the benefits of broadband internet connectivity. PLA’s program, DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities, will accept applications from public libraries in select rural counties to help them to establish mobile hotspot lending programs and to initiate or expand digital skills training programs and patron access to computers.
Why PLA and Microsoft are Working Together
According to a recent Microsoft study, 162.8 million people do not use the internet at broadband speeds, and almost 66 million people have low levels of digital readiness, according to the American Library Association. Libraries provide essential services to populations most affected by these challenges, particularly rural and low-income communities.
Rural libraries are critical for communities to achieve digital access and skills and the resultant employment, economic, educational, and health benefits, often providing the only free access to computers, the Internet, and training in their regions. Yet our many small and rural libraries (more than one-third, or 6,400, of all U.S. public library buildings are considered “rural”) are challenged by limited staff and facilities, with a median of 1.9 full-time equivalent employees and about 2,500 square feet. These libraries are challenged to provide their staff with continuing education training due to cost, time, and geography; have less access to dedicated information technology and tools; and have fewer technical services staff than many other libraries.
Microsoft Philanthropies works to advance the company’s mission by partnering with nonprofits and local governments to make opportunities in the digital economy accessible to all people. In addition, Microsoft is closing the broadband gap through the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which works to provide broadband access to underserved communities. In conjunction with the Airband initiative and partnerships with other national organizations including FFA and 4-H, Microsoft’s support of PLA will help bridge these access and skills gap.
DigitalLead Libraries Announced
In November 2019, the libraries listed below will receive new hotspots and computers.
Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library, Alpena, MI
Case Memorial Library, Kenduskeag, ME
Cattaraugus Free Library, Cattaraugus, NY
Centerville Community Library, Centerville, SD
Charlotte Library, Charlotte, VT
Coleman Public Library, Coleman, WI
Crivitz Public Library, Crivitz, WI
Curlew Public Library, Wenatchee, WA
Eastern Shore Public Library, Accomac, VA
Goodman-Dunbar Public Library, Goodman, WI
Hurley Public Library, Hurley, SD
Lester Public Library of Vesper, Vesper, WI
Maclure Library, Pittsford, VT
Martindale Community Library, Martindale, TX
Pendleton County Public Library, Franklin, WV
Ronan Library District, Ronan, MT
Vaughn Public Library, Ashland, WI
Veteran's Memorial Library, Patten, ME
Wausaukee Public Library, Wausaukee, WI
Bethel Library Association, Bethel, ME
Brimfield Public Library District, Brimfield, IL
Burnsville Public Library, Burnsville, WV
Cordova District Library, Cordova, IL
Cuba Circulating Library, Cuba, NY
Dora B. Woodyard Memorial Library, Elizabeth, WV
Eldridge Branch, Eldridge, IA
Eureka Public Library District, Eureka, IL
Jackson City Library, Jackson, OH
Lena Public Library, Lena, WI
Lillie M. Evans Library District, Princeville, IL
Madera County Library, Madera, CA
Montmorency County Public Libraries, Atlanta, MI
Oconto Falls Community Library, Oconto Falls, WI
Perry County District Library, New Lexington, OH
Putnam County Library, Hurricane, WV
Rhinelander District Library, Rhinelander, WI
Robert W. Rowe Public Library District, Sheridan, IL
Rockingham Free Public Library, Bellows Falls, VT
Rosholt Branch, Rosholt, WI
Ruth Enlow Library of Garrett County, Oakland, MD
Wayne Public Library, Wayne, WV
Libraries nationwide will benefit from the training and tools created and collected by the project and released for use by PLA members and others.
Resources for All Libraries
Through the DigitalLead project, PLA is creating tools for mobile hotspot lending programs and digital literacy instruction in public libraries and will present webinars and other educational programs, to benefit libraries of all sizes. We encourage all libraries to take advantage of the following resources.
PLA has compiled resources to help libraries start, promote and evaluate hotspot lending programs, digital literacy training, and public access computers. Use these playbooks to get ideas from other libraries and templates you can adapt for your library. If you’ve created a policy, promotional item, or evaluation tool for these programs at your library, please share it with email@example.com to be included in these growing playbooks.
Other resources include the following:
- PLA’s DigitalLearn.org features self-directed tutorials for learners to increase their digital literacy. These video-based modules are 6 to 22 minutes long, written at the fourth-grade reading level, and available in Spanish as well as English.
- DigitalLearn.org Tools and Resources for Trainers features over 80 sets of ready-made tools (slide templates, activity sheets, and other planning documents) to help you teach computers skills, apps, safety, and more in your library. If you are interested in teaching a new class, or just want to refresh your own training materials, use DigitalLearn.org Tools and Resources for Trainers.
- PLA’s Digital Literacy Initiative offers recorded webinars, information on PLA’s digital literacy interest group, and more.