Without a doubt, public libraries help build digitally inclusive communities in key areas, yet many tribal and rural libraries cannot offer these same services for their communities due to a variety of barriers related to the digital divide. This month I tagged along with Mary Villegas, Technology and Tribal Consultant, on a site visit to the Venito Garcia Library which serves the Tohono O’Odham Nation. Sitting in on this visit provided a better understanding of the activities of the Library Development branch of the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, my host institution for the Digital Inclusion Corps project, and emphasized the need for action in all areas of digital inclusion to support tribal and rural libraries. It doesn’t matter how many digital resources are available online if our underserved communities cannot access them.
The LD department publicizes a number of resources for tribal libraries, but it is the in-person site visits, rather than emails or phone calls, that are an important first step to relationship building. On the site visits, Mary provides an overview of the resources that the State Library provides for the local libraries, including continuing education for library staff (such as the Summer Library Institute), grant opportunities, consulting, and 29 freely available databases (while we’re at it, the hotspot lending pilot program we’re developing as part of the Digital Inclusion Corps can be added to this list). Her visits take a “train the trainer” approach, and she also conducts public trainings for library users as well. It is this relationship building that is a critical step towards starting the conversations with our stakeholders about why being connected matters not only for increasing a library’s capacity to over 21st century digital services, but for equipping libraries to become advocates for digital inclusion in their communities as well.
I am proud to support the Library Development’s mission of “empowering Arizona libraries to offer excellent customer service through consulting, grant funding, resources, and training.”
The longer I’m “doing” digital inclusion work the more I see that digital inclusion is a prerequisite for libraries and their users to effectively access the State Library’s resources. All components of digital inclusion are required: it is imperative that robust and affordable broadband is available, that users have the access to Internet-capable devices, that relevant content is available, and that users have the digital skills and technical support needed to effectively use information and communication technology. A commitment to empowering Arizona libraries requires us to address each of these areas head-on. It’s a long road ahead of us, and relationship building with our local libraries from the outset is the right move to make.