Ohio Libraries Enlist Tech Trainers to Fight Digital Divide

Champaign County, Ohio, libraries are providing a technology trainer at the branches there, and workers in the county are also pointing to a local need for better Internet access and digital literacy.

People using computers in a library.
(FlickrCC/Montgomery County Public Libraries)

(TNS) — Champaign County libraries are providing a technology trainer at its branches, and workers there are pointing to a need locally for internet access and digital literacy.

The “digital divide” — the gap between people who have online access and skills, and those who don’t — prevents people from participating equally in essential parts of life, according to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. It disproportionately affects minorities, low-income people, the disabled, rural populations and the elderly.

The three library systems in Champaign County — Mechanicsburg Public Library, Champaign County Public Library and St. Paris Public Library — were awarded a $23,410 grant through the Guiding Ohio Online program from the State Library of Ohio to fund a technology trainer. The libraries are providing a 25% match to the grant with their own funds, according to Mechanicsburg Library director Rebecca Wilden.

Mayo will be visiting Christiansburg, Mechanicsburg, North Lewisburg, St. Paris and Urbana to hold one-on-one sessions with people who come in with technology needs, ranging from using email to operating Microsoft Office products.

“There are a lot of people who come into the library and don’t know how to do something with their technology,” Wilden said. “It’s nice to have a dedicated person to help people with that.”

According to the state library, more than 300,000 households in Ohio, which is close to 1 million Ohioans, lack access to high-speed internet. Nationwide, 57% of lower-income Americans don’t have access to broadband services in their homes, and 7 in 20 households earning less than $35,000 annually don’t use the Internet in their homes.

Guiding Ohio Online’s vision is for every Ohioan to have the opportunity to fully participate in the online environment. Local libraries can help meet that goal, Wilden said.

Champaign County libraries’ more than 15,000 patrons come into their local branches daily to utilize computers, print services, faxing services and more. Patrons of all ages have voiced questions about technology to library staff, but the bulk of users who are requesting assistance are Champaign County’s senior citizens. Wilden said.

Mayo has plans for outreach programming, where she hopes to visit Champaign County’s senior center, youth center and other offices.

“We’re hoping that with having [Mayo] here, we’ll reach all ages and backgrounds,” Wilden said. “Hopefully we’ll reach other people who may not come to the library for these things.”

Mechanicsburg’s library typically sees an influx in technology-based questions in January. People receive new gadgets from loved ones during the holidays and want to learn how to use them, coming into their local libraries for guidance, Wilden said.

Not having access to reliable Internet and lacking digital literacy can provide many obstacles to a person. Seeking and securing employment, for example, can be complex without technical skills.

Two-thirds of older workers want to learn new skills, according to AARP Ohio. That jumps above 90% for workers whose employers support more training. About a quarter of older workers have had some kind of technology training in the previous two years.

“We know in the workforce, they need digital skills and to be able to use technology,” Wilden said.

Champaign County Libraries offer a digital literacy course, Northstar Digital Literacy, and Mayo will also be teaching classes with the program’s curriculum.

Northstar Digital Literacy is a digital learning tool that covers a variety of technology scenarios, according to a library press release. It comes with lessons and exercises to improve basic computer skills such as using Microsoft products, as well as to build career searching skills and ways to support K-12 remote learning. The digital literacy guide also includes lessons about social media.

The courses can be self-directed, but having an informed technology trainer will help get the program “off the ground,” Wilden said. Those who complete the courses will receive a certificate they can add to their resumes or bring to an interview.

Currently, Mayo is offering drop-in hours to answer technology questions on Mondays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Champaign County Library in Urbana, Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Mechanicsburg Public Library, and Wednesdays from noon to 5 p.m. at the St. Paris Public Library.