MIAMI, FLA. – A new initiative expands digital access and training through local libraries in 12 U.S. communities, aiming to enhance citizens’ ability to use the power of the Internet to improve their lives.
“Digital access is essential to first class citizenship in our society. Without digital, you lack full access to information, you are second class economically and even socially,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of Knight Foundation. “If a job application at Wal-Mart or MacDonald’s must be made online, how can we pretend that we have equal opportunity if significant portions of our communities don’t have access? Libraries can be part of the solution.”
The effort comes on the heels of sweeping recommendations by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, a project of the Aspen Institute. In a report issued earlier this month, the Commission asserts that democracy in America is threatened by the lack of equal access to quality information. Funding public libraries, as centers of digital and media training, is one key to filling the gaps, the commission says. Its report is available at www.knightcomm.org.
“We realize that public libraries have been in communities for generations, and that they are already providing digital access. They need additional resources to expand their services to a wider audience,” said Donna Nicely, a Knight Commission member and director of the Nashville Public Library.
The grants include efforts to:
- Bring training and access to underserved areas by establishing mobile computer labs in five communities, including Akron, Ohio, Lexington, Ky., Aberdeen, S.D., Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Milledgeville, Ga.;
- Recruit and train mutli-lingual technology teachers in Florida’s Broward County, to further reach the area’s Spanish and Creole-speaking residents. Already in Broward, 70 percent of library patrons seek digital products.
- Create a “Job Center” at Charlotte’s main library, where residents can use computers for employment searches and career research.
- Install wireless access at all Wichita-area public libraries.
The following communities will receive grants: Aberdeen, S.D.; Akron, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ga.; Detroit, Mich.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Lexington, Ky.; Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Fla.; Milledgeville, Ga.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan.
At a grant announcement in Charlotte earlier this month, library patron Sabra Harris spoke about how the computers at her regional library helped with her with a job search after a debilitating illness. Harris said she contacted potential employers, only to be told she had to apply online. But she didn’t have the funds to pay for access at home.
“The Internet is needed for everything – and I needed everything,” Harris said.
At her regional library, Harris “didn’t feel judged, or that I had to pass a certain profile. I didn’t feel embarrassed getting on to a computer looking for jobs. As a matter of fact, the majority of us who were there in sense were a solid support system because we were all looking for jobs.”
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.