By Raymond Pun (email@example.com) | The digital divide: we hear it so often in our profession. It’s an ongoing struggle across the country particularly in an age of digital information and technology.
As someone who has worked in public libraries in New York, I’ve interacted with many patrons who either do not have access to technologies at home and/or do not possess the skills in using computers, tablets, etc. Now as an academic librarian, I’ve been thinking a lot more about community engagement and outreach services in Fresno County, California where I am currently based.
Last spring, California State University, Fresno sent a call for grant proposals to the academic community on ways to support our community. The grant would reward any collaborative projects that somehow “touch” the community through student involvement.
At the time I was encouraged to put a proposal together focusing on public library partnerships and building a program to bridge the digital divide since I’ve worked in a public library before. During my preliminary research on California, I found a study published by the Public Policy of Institute of California in 2013 that “indicated 40% of state residents do not have access to the Internet.” This number is quite alarming considering that more and more information can be accessed online only.
As critical information resources migrate to the web including employment and educational opportunities, it is becoming a grim reality that a large number of people could be “left behind” and may not have access to any pertinent information at all. After putting the proposal together, we were fortunate to secure the grant. The grant was divided into small travel stipends for our student ambassadors to teach a wide variety of technology workshops in selected Fresno County Public Library branches (FCPL).
I worked closely with FCPL team to identify key needs in terms of workshops for the community and scheduling these programs. We started with basic technology workshops such as using the Internet, creating email accounts, searching on the web, and using social media tools. We’ve also hired ten students who will serve as student ambassadors to teach these workshops in the public libraries on the weekends running until April 2017. The program just launched a couple of weeks ago and we’ve had a great turn out for these workshops. All of the attendees so far are seniors and veterans who have never used a computer before or own an email account. The student ambassadors have found the experience to be very rewarding too.
As the project manager, I am very fortunate to work with our student ambassadors who are gifted in other languages. They can teach the workshops in English, Spanish, Arabic, Hmong, and Cambodian if needed. In the last workshop, I also stepped in to help two patrons on how to find news sources via Mandarin-Chinese. In addition to digital access challenges, we may forget to recognize that language barriers are very present in our communities and we need to mindfully consider ways to accommodate these groups of users as well.
Fresno County is an interesting area because the city was once a refugee site for Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong and Laotian groups during the height of the Cold War. For us, as librarians, to create this collaboration with the public library has truly been a unique opportunity to engage with our multicultural communities and make that bridge across the digital divide. Hopefully this blog piece can inspire you to consider creative ways to engage and support your communities through technological services.
Raymond Pun is First Year Student Success Librarian, California State University, Fresno