I had the pleasure of attending the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) webinar “Libraries as Digital Inclusion Champions” on Thursday, January 25. Libraries have long been local champions of digital inclusion in their communities, and I loved hearing about coordinated efforts at the state and county level to support digital equity.

Here is what stuck out to me:

  • In Hawaii, all but 4 of the 51 branch libraries have 1 Gbps! This is a huge lifeline for the patrons for whom the library is the only source of access (including the residents who choose to live “off-grid”, but need to go to the library from time to time specifically to access the internet).
  • Some of the Hawaii branch libraries offered netbook lending, and staff was surprised to realize that the same 50-60 users were checking and re-checking them out.
  • As the director of the Putnam County Public Library put it, digital inclusion means fostering individual’s “technological self-reliance,” or the ability to engage and play with technology as relevant to the end user. A key component of this is having tech support available at the library so that individuals are comfortable trying new technology and have a real person available to help answer questions.
  • PCPL also has an annual tech sale of refurbished and donated devices. This is a great way to make technology affordable and to minimize e-waste.
  • There is a need to reimagine the role of libraries as the gatekeepers of library technology (i.e. over-reliance on one single network administrator) to technology hubs fostering self-reliance. Such a paradigm shift may help with the library’s public image.
  • Increasing hours of operation is one tangible way to increase service for community members that rely on the library for Internet access.
  • The Arkansas State Library recognized that many libraries were already doing youth coding programs and many wanted to but didn’t know where to begin. ASL wanted to create a network of libraries doing coding programs as well as provide resources and training for libraries. This resulted in three training sessions for librarians where they learned the basics of coding, terminology, available learning resources, and benchmarks from the State of Arkansas’s K-12 computer science standards. Each librarian got to take home a “Coding in a Box” kit with robotics, computational thinking games, coding books, and workbooks.
  • Unsurprisingly, the increased users participating in the coding camps tend to put a strain on the library’s network, and so there is need to increase the available bandwidth.

The webinar is accessible to non-SHLB members until February 25, 2018 at http://www.shlb.org/action-plan/webinars.