Tech and Training: A Year of Boosting Digital Access

Written by Emma Willig, Community Tech Center Coordinator, Tech Center / MakerSpace Downtown Main Library

When you send an email, apply for a job online, share a video birthday message to a family member, or even read the CHPL blog you’re using an incredible resource many of us take for granted: the internet. However, many Americans, especially children and seniors, may not have access to reliable internet and technology. CHPL is wrapping up on a two-year Library program designed to increase access to the internet – to close the “digital divide” – for our community.

Joining Together to Build Digital Equity

The Cincinnati Museum Center lead an effort to address this issue in 2020 and partnered with CHPL when they were awarded a two-year grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Named Synchronous and Asynchronous Virtual Experiences (SAVEs), this program began with the creation of an Advisory Board of neighborhood partners who provide regular feedback on programming and tech selections.

We focused on five Cincinnati neighborhoods where people had limited access to technology: Avondale, Price Hill, St. Bernard, West End, and Westwood. Within those communities, we designed services to help children in Pre-K –fifth grade with remote learning. The program also helped older adults maintain digital connections with family and community.

Boosting Access to a World of Ideas

Digital literacy is often viewed as a three-legged stool: WiFi access, devices, and knowledge. Without one of these legs, it’s increasingly difficult for the rest of the stool to be supported.

To address all three of these items, the Cincinnati Museum Center began creating digital content for youth and senior citizens. This included Virtual Field Trips, opens a new window, Virtual Programs-on-Wheels, opens a new window, Conversations with an Expert, opens a new window, Cincinnati Heritage Programs, opens a new window, and a Story Tree Time, opens a new window series.

To connect with this content, the Library distributed 50 technology bundles, opens a new window in the five target neighborhoods. The bundles included a Google Chromebook, a WiFi hotspot, a headset, a mouse, and a flash drive.

Customers picked up their bundles at their neighborhood branches, getting an hour of training before taking the devices home. By the time they left the Library, they were ready to connect to the internet, use a flash drive, and everything in-between!

Digital Learning for All Ages

In addition, we purchased 25 GrandPads, opens a new window, tablets designed for older adults, and partnered with Seven Hills Community Housing to distribute them in the West End neighborhood. Our partner schools successfully rolled out laptop and digital learning programs throughout year one as well.

Stay tuned for more updates on CHPL.org as this program wraps up this year! 

What do you see as the biggest barriers to digital access in your neighborhood? What resources or services would ensure long-term access to technology and the internet?

This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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