By Alex Nelson
The Kansas City Public Library is involved in many projects to serve local community members through digital inclusion services. For example, our job seeker programs, Tech Access programming, and the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion (to name just a few) serve patrons in the KC area.
But did you know we’re a leader in the national landscape of digital inclusion as well?
The Library anchors a project called Accelerating Promising Practices for Small and Rural Libraries. We mentor 13 libraries across the country, from Iowa to Texas to Puerto Rico, as they implement digital inclusion programs or services in their communities.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which distributes federal funding to libraries and museums nationwide, provided over $500,000 to the Library to support the three-year project beginning in September 2019. IMLS also awarded each of the small and rural libraries the funding required to implement their individual programs.
Digital inclusion is the idea that all people should have equal access to the technology that is such an important part of our modern life. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance puts it like this: “Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs),” meaning things like computers, tablets, and internet access.
That extends to knowing how to use computers and the internet, avoid online scams, employ digital resources to apply for social services and jobs, and other digital functions. With the COVID-19 pandemic widening the world’s transition to online and virtual formats, the need for digital inclusion has become clearer. People simply cannot live and operate in our world today without interacting with technology on some level.
Through the Accelerating Promising Practices project, we serve as trainers, sounding boards, cheerleaders, and consultants for the 13 smaller libraries we are mentoring. Since their individual projects are so different, the Library leans on a vast network of contacts made through past collaborations with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU), the Digital Inclusion Fellowship sponsored by Google Fiber, and other organizations.
Among the projects our mentored libraries are working on:
- The Asotin County Library in Clarkston, Washington, is working to select useful and in-demand data sets and publish them as open data on a community portal. This will make crucial information free and available to members of the community.
- The Reynolds Community College Library, in Richmond, Virginia, runs a program that lends laptops to first-generation college students and provides information and instruction on how to use them. This addresses a key community need and ensures equity in the classroom.
- The Centro para Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has created and shared digital literacy workshops for its community. They focus on basic computer use, desktop and mobile tools and applications, e-commerce, electronic government online platforms, and online privacy and security.
To learn more about our grantees and their projects, click here and here. The Kansas City Public Library lends support through educational webinars about topics that assist in project development, sharing resources from KCPL’s own projects, and networking with people doing similar work.
Several of the mentee libraries are in the final phases of their project plans and will conclude their partnership with KCPL in August 2022. All have had great success despite the abrupt shutdowns and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Several grantees adapted so well to the restrictions caused by the pandemic, in fact, that the impact of their projects was heightened.
For example, by providing digital literacy classes through its local government channel, the Valle Verde campus library of El Paso Community College greatly expanded their reach. Similarly, in Puerto Rico, digital literacy classes were broadcast in Spanish via Zoom, reaching far more people than originally anticipated.
It is not only our grantee libraries that have benefitted from the Accelerating Promising Practices program. The Kansas City Public Library has gained new connections, resources, and collective knowledge. We’ve observed how other communities pivoted in tough times and learned how to better serve our own community.
We now have a national network of 13 libraries and a broadened community of practice – all in support of a more digitally inclusive world.
Alex Nelson is the Library’s national digital inclusion project coordinator.