Case Study of Des Plaines Public Library Providing Computer Classes
Case Study of a Library Providing Computer Classes for Spanish Speakers
Hector Marino is the Coordinator of Technical and Computer Services at Des Plaines Public Library in Des Plaines, Illinois . Hector also serves as the International Relations Chairperson for REFORMA, The Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking. I recently asked him the following questions about his community and the computer classes for Spanish speakers his library offers.
How would you describe the community of Des Plaines ?
The community of Des Plaines is made up of 57,000 people; 18-20% of the population is Hispanic/Latino. Korean, Polish, and South Asian immigrant populations are also increasing in the area. Des Plaines is predominantly a middle class community. In the last 5 years the population of Des Plaines has changed dramatically as a result of re-development in Des Plaines and an influx of people leaving the city of Chicago . The Des Plaines community has experienced a lot of investment in hotels because of its proximity to O’Hare. Many of the workers in these hotels are immigrants. Large groups of immigrants in the Chicago area are also becoming first time homeowners and seeking more affordable housing in Des Plaines . Now Hispanics make up 60% of the school age population in Des Plaines . For the most part the community has embraced these changes. The Police Department is working to learn and develop resources in multiple languages. Agencies such as the Park District are developing bi-lingual programming. I am working with the mayor to develop a Hispanic Advisory Group. Recently, a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was also formed. The community and its institutions are embracing diversity.
How does your library partner with your Hispanic community?
We partner with the high school, churches, chamber of commerce, park district, health organizations, ESL training programs and with the community college. We work with teachers and coordinators at these organizations to identify needs of the Hispanic community and complement the services of community organizations. We also visit classes or events sponsored by our partner organizations to promote library services. Recently, we also developed customized classes and tours for members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
How did your Technology Program for Spanish Speakers get started?
I created and taught an Internet Basics class for Spanish speakers several years ago for the Denver Public Library. After moving to Des Plaines , I expanded this class and created additional classes on topics such as how to buy computers, email, using files/folders, searching the Internet, and using electronic resources. All of the classes are taught in Spanish.
How did you gain the support of your library administration to provide technology classes to Spanish speakers?
I approached the library leadership and they were supportive of my idea to offer a Computer Basics class. From there the program has grown based on the popularity and demand for the classes. Our library had a computer lab but I don’t think libraries without a lab should be discouraged. Even on a limited budget, these days a library can invest in a few wireless laptop computers and an LCD projector with just a few thousand dollars if they want to offer computer classes.
Where did you get materials for program?
I developed the content for our classes. The class handouts are very simple, step-by-step instruction and are mostly in Spanish. I started with the basic steps, such as Opening a Program from the Start Menu. For each step, I created a screen shot and then provided a Spanish translation of the necessary instructions. I think it is important to use the English profile on the computers, rather than switching the profile to Spanish because almost anywhere the learner will use a computer, the profile will be in English.
Do you have open lab time for students?
Yes, about 50% of students come to the library to practice their computer skills. I also added bookmarks to our computers for popular Spanish internet sites and other sites that provide health information in Spanish such as the National Institute of Health.
How do you determine the scheduling of classes?
We have a designated day and time (Fridays from 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM) for our Spanish classes. We found it very helpful to have ongoing classes that occur at regularly scheduled times. This makes it easier for students to know when classes are scheduled and if they are unable to attend a class they don’t have to wait several weeks to attend the next class. We do not register students for the classes. The classes are first come, first served. We allow people to bring their kids and we try to provide activities for kids.
Who teaches the classes? I currently teach the classes but I am trying to integrate community volunteers into the program to teach classes such as Photo Shop.
What attributes are helpful in an instructor for technology classes for Spanish speakers?
I think having a native Spanish speaker is ideal, but you also want someone who is both knowledgeable about technology and if possible, your Hispanic community. The person has to be able to customize classes on the fly to meet the needs of different learners and they need to be enthusiastic about technology and their students learning. Libraries who aren’t able to find a native Spanish speaker to teach their classes could enlist the help of a translator to work with the class instructor. I think the key to using a translator would be to develop very easy to follow handouts with screen shots that have the instructions in English and Spanish side by side.
How do you get students in the door?
I have a very good relationship with local and regional English and Spanish Media, which we use to promote our classes. We also use our website which is available in Spanish.
I developed colorful fliers in English and Spanish with big text. The marketing materials emphasize that the classes are free, in Spanish, and that you don’t have to be a resident of Des Plaines to participate. We distribute marketing materials at local restaurants, fiestas, and churches.
Our partnerships with community organization also help to stimulate word of mouth marketing. Past students also help get the word out. We use our attendance list from the classes to contact past students about upcoming Spanish programs such as author talks by Spanish authors.
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