Libraries: Natural Leaders of Community-Wide Digital Inclusion Efforts

Angela Siefer   / 

Cowboy sign near Dodge City, courtesy of Joseph Novak on FlickrLibraries are responding to and anticipating the digital needs of the communities they serve, as are other community anchor institutions and the residents themselves. Technology is changing our day to day activies so fast many of us struggle to keep up. Libraries are natural leaders of community-wide efforts to coordinate and collaborate digital inclusion plans and strategies.

Let me give you an example.

In January of 2014, 1,700 students of the Dodge City Public Schools (Unified School District #443) will take home new iPads. This is a fabulous opportunity for those students and their families, with potential impact on their extended families and their neighbors.

The initiative raises a lot of questions, concerns, and more questions regarding the role of the community:

  • Where will the students go for Internet access if they do not have Internet at home? The library? McDonalds? Other locations (such as the community college, the hospital and local businesses) might see a rise in wifi use IF students (and parents) are aware of them.
  • Where will students go for Internet access when the public locations are closed? Parking lots outside of open wifi hotspots?;">
  • In some families, the iPad will be the first computing device in the home.  Parents may choose to purchase home broadband service.  Do parents want/need guidance on how to choose a broadband service provider? Will data caps be an issue?
  • Some families will want to purchase home broadband service but be financially unable. Is the value to the community great enough that the community should help coordinate low cost broadband service offers?
  • The arrival of a computing device into a home is an opportunity for the rest of the family. If parents received digital literacy training and support, would their possible use of the device and ability to support their child increase?
  • Who will the students turn to in the evenings and on weekends for technical support if their parents are not tech savvy?

Dodge City, Kansas - Courtesy of Doug Kerr on FlickrThese are not issues to be solved only by the school district, or the library (or McDonalds!). The situation in Dodge City defines for us why multiple sectors of the community must work together to increase information technology access and use.

"Digital Dodge City" is a community wide initiative to determine the digital future of Dodge City. Community members have participated in discussions and completed a "stakeholder alignment" survey to help define Dodge City's current and future needs, as well as the resources necessary to ensure community members have access to and understand how to use information technology. The objective is to stimulate community-wide discussion and engage diverse stakeholders in planning efforts to create and support a healthy, prosperous and cohesive 21st century community.

The Digital Dodge City Steering Committee (comprised of representatives from the public library, the regional library system, the community college, the city, the hospital, the public K-12 school, non-profits and a business) have chosen to direct their short term activities toward supporting the broader community impacted by the 21st learning initiatives (commonly referred to as iPad projects) of the public K-12 school, a private school, and the community college.

Dodge City SummitThe Digital Dodge City initiative is the result of a local leaders team's participation piloting Building Digital Communities: Framework for Action created by IMLS, the University of Washington and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). OCLC is leading Building Digital Communities: Pilot which is supporting and documenting nine pilot communities.  Knowing representatives from multiple sectors were needed to create local leadership teams, OCLC reached out to Cathy Reeves, Director of the Dodge City Public Library and asked her to identify someone from city government and someone from a nonprofit to serve with her.  Cathy chose Jane Longmeyer, Director of Public Information at City of Dodge City and Greta Clark, Professor and Director of Multicultural Education at Dodge City Community College. All three have large personal networks, are enthusiastic about increasing information technology access and use in Dodge City and have the support of their supervisors.

Libraries involved in (and often leading!) community-wide efforts that strengthen the community, not only benefit the community but also elevate the status of the library.

Cathy Reeves states, "If libraries are to succeed in today's world they need to become active members of their community working in partnership with other community leaders. This is especially important as libraries strive to provide digital resources and training to the residents of the community. The library cannot do it alone. This became very important as Jane, Greta and I worked together in our Digital Dodge City project. Each person brought contacts and information to the table to create a truly city-wide digital inclusion project which will benefit all residents of the community."