In 2022, the Public Library Association (PLA) awarded $1.1 million to 160 public libraries across the United States to conduct digital literacy workshops in their own areas. Six libraries in Virginia were selected to participate in this initiative, which was supported by AT&T.
As defined by the Digital Literacy Task Force of the American Library Association (ALA), PLA’s parent organization, digital literacy is seen “as the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for these crucial skills and for bridging the digital divide gap through partnerships with local libraries.
Read on to learn more about what took place in three communities across Virginia.
Lifelong Digital Literacy Education
The Bristol Public Library assists in digital literacy education in our community through the efforts of the Ida Jones Creative Arts, Technology, and Workforce Development Center. The Jones Center provides continuous one-on-one support on a walk-in basis, alongside more in-depth weekly classes. This instruction provides access and training to underserved communities that struggle to navigate the digital universe we live in today. Of the over three hundred individuals each year, 70% of the Jones Center’s students are experiencing poverty.
The Jones Center has held weekly courses focusing on digital literacy for many years. Most of these classes teach career-needed skills. Excel Boot Camp helps patrons learn the basics of Microsoft Excel over two sessions. Email Basics covers creating an email account, proper email etiquette, attaching documents, and recognizing spam.
Bristol Public Library
Recently, through grant funding from the PLA Digital Literacy Workshop Incentive, the Jones Center has hosted a series of publicly available classes not necessarily focused on career development but on daily life skills. One especially popular series was Using Smart Phones. They explored adding apps like Libby to check out ebooks, and how to secure the phone using lock screens and other settings. One participant said after five minutes, “This class is already worth it,” after she learned how to organize icons on her screen.
In another session on managing passwords, we looked into finding out if your password has been compromised and how to make stronger passwords. One attendee said, “I’m going to need to change my passwords.” Now she knows how.
While about 88% of public libraries provide some form of digital literacy support, only 42% offer formal classes, according to a 2022 Public Library Association poll.
These are just a few examples, however. Digital literacy is a rapidly expanding and increasingly complex divide with which everyone struggles to keep pace. The Jones Center’s full-time support and regular classes assist our community in lifelong digital literacy education. Now more than ever, learning requires a lifelong commitment.
Tonia Kestner, Library Director
Bristol Public Library
Tech, Tech Boom! Computers Made Simple
South Norfolk Memorial Library, a branch of the Chesapeake Public Library system, used grant funds to provide seven digital literacy classes for adults 55+ in our community. We partnered with Chesapeake Parks and Recreation’s 55 & Better division to promote sessions that spanned from basic email to mobile device basics. The classes were marketed through the library’s online event calendar; local newspaper ads; a brochure listing session summaries, dates, and times; emails; and word of mouth. Participants could register online, by phone, or in-person at the branch.
Library staff ran the sessions using materials provided on DigitalLearn.org. We found the video tutorials, activity sheets, and handouts to be really effective in helping us to achieve our goal of providing seniors with digital literacy instruction at a moderate pace in a non-threatening environment, which would allow them to enjoy the experience. Most participants brought with them lots of questions and an eagerness to learn something new. Even when technology issues arose, participant comments were favorable. They said they appreciated the hands-on instruction and the ability to ask questions that were relevant to their technology use needs.
By the end of the Tech, Tech Boom! Computers Made Simple series, we had reached 39 adults which was below our goal of 50 participants. We learned that digital literacy is valued by seniors in our community. They prefer in-person, hands-on learning classes, and are capable of learning new technologies in a supportive environment.
Angela Gaskins, Library Manager I
Chesapeake Public Library
Equitable Access for All
Williamsburg Regional Library (WRL) was pleased to be selected to receive a PLA Digital Literacy Grant in 2022. WRL is dedicated to serving the community by providing access to resources that are critical for success in today’s digital world. The library’s outreach program is particularly focused on reaching out to historically underserved areas in James City County, the City of Williamsburg, and York County. These areas have high poverty rates, particularly among children, which can make it difficult for residents to access the digital devices and internet connection that are necessary for success in school and the workplace.
The PLA Digital Literacy grant allowed WRL to respond to this challenge by offering a series of digital literacy workshops using PLA’s DigitalLearn modules, focusing on basic computer skills, internet navigation, online security, and access to online health and career search tools. Over the course of 18 weeks, 127 people participated in the workshops and received a certificate of completion. The success of the program was evident in the feedback from participants who reported feeling more confident and better prepared to navigate the digital world. One participant told staff, “Now I do not have to depend on family to help me with the computer.” Another shared, “I am paying my bills online now.”
The need for digital literacy skills is only growing, and WRL is committed to meeting this need in the communities it serves through programs like this one. By continuing to offer these workshops, the library is not only providing valuable skills, but also helping to bridge the digital divide and promote equal access to technology for all members of the community.
Desiree Parker, Marketing & Communications Manager
Williamsburg Regional Library