Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mobile Computer Instruction

A grant will allow hands-on computer training programs at library branch locations in Summit County.

Akron residents will be able to take hands-on computer classes at any of the county library system's 17 public library branches, thanks to a new grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Akron-Summit County Public Library will use the $240,000, three-year grant to purchase two mobile laptop carts and fund a computer trainer, which will significantly expand and enhance the library's workforce training offerings community-wide. Although the Library currently provides hands-on computer training to the public at the Main Library in downtown Akron, it is limited to demonstration training at its branch library locations.

"Knight Foundation founders Jack and Jim Knight wanted Akron to be an informed community. In the digital age, we do that by increasing access to a broader geographic area, and enhancing individuals' computer skills and overall workforce readiness," said Vivian C. Neal, Knight Foundation program director for Akron.

The grant is part of a $3.3 million Knight Foundation initiative to expand digital access at libraries across the United States. 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

"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 Akron project will begin with computer training staff offering 3-4 programs per week at branch library locations. Topics may include Basic Computer Skills, Basic Internet, MS Word, MS Excel, E-Bay, Resume Workshops, Typing, Mouse Skills and Web site creation classes. Each class can accommodate 15 people.

Over the course of three years, the library plans to provide hands-on computer training to more than 7,500 people at branch libraries, said Library Director David Jennings.

"The public's need for hands-on training is at unprecedented levels," Jennings said. "More people are realizing each day that it's increasingly difficult to navigate the modern world without some basic computing skills and knowledge."

The mobile computer instruction project is expected to be up and running by early 2010.

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