by Adria Ripka
Technology plays a large role in our daily lives. Most of us don’t notice anymore the use of touch screens when we place an order at McDonald’s or how easy it can be to use an ATM to do our banking. Our purchases are scanned, EZPass let’s us travel through toll booths quickly, and our mobile devices remind us of our appointments.
While most of us, me included, can get the hang of using our cellphones and tablets because they seem more intimate and intuitive, there is still a large gap among the population in knowing how to use a desktop or laptop computer. I see it every day in the career center where I work.
For half of each work day, I provide help in a resource center that contains two dozen computers. The machines are available primarily for job search and career exploration. At least one third of the customers who come to that center are looking for work and have never applied for a job online. They are nervous, frustrated, and have never used a computer, and so are limited in opportunities. Another third may not be afraid and might have touched a keyboard, but do not know how to search and maneuver on-line. Creating a Username and Password is a foreign concept. Age is not necessarily a defining characteristic of these folks. A lack of digital literacy is prevalent in all age groups.
The second half of my workday has me teaching basic computer usage to customers in week long classes. I have adults who are beginners and younger people who know how to use their cell phone. Neither group has the digital skills they need in today’s world. By the end of the week, they feel more comfortable, and may even start to like using the computers, but their path to meaningful employment, and general use of today’s technology is still a bumpy road.
Our libraries play an important part in helping patrons learn the digital skills necessary in the 21st century. I know how popular our one-on-one sessions at my library are. I’ve asked for help myself from our staff. It is important for library trustees to support staff efforts in developing programs that help our patrons bridge that digital divide. We must connect with legislators and urge them to introduce legislation that will fund national, state, and local activities to help our population improve their skills.
Our libraries are the best resource for many people in our communities. I know your library may need building improvements and more materials. However, making digital literacy a priority is important. The devices are not going away.
Remember this line from the first Star Wars movie: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kanobi. You’re my only hope.” In many ways, our libraries are the source of hope for our patrons.