Bridging the digital divide at a library near you

Posted on Feb 25, 2022 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main
Hawai‘i State Librarian Stacey Aldrich

Hawai‘i State Librarian Stacey Aldrich

Once upon a time, a homeless fellow on Maui wrote a novel on a library computer. It got published and he’s not living in his car anymore. Then there’s the little girl who didn’t like books until a librarian read to her during storytime. Or what about the tutu whose grandkids gave her a Kindle for Christmas? She went straight to her local library, where she learned how to download e-books. Those are just a few of the ways Hawai‘i State Librarian Stacey Aldrich says libraries are helping people every day.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who have written us saying if they didn’t have a library to get books and movies, they wouldn’t have survived the pandemic,” she recalls.  But the pandemic also highlighted the “digital divide” and the need for people to learn how to navigate the internet — if they could even afford a computer or other device and a digital connection. To bridge that divide, Aldrich wants people to think of their local library as the great equalizer when it comes to digital literacy. “Libraries are a great place to start, with opportunities for everyone. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or where you come from,” she says.  “Everyone should have the same opportunities to grow and be successful, and the library can be there for them.” Aldrich points out that libraries have always been a community resource — now more than ever.

“Our librarians are there to help because so much of daily life went online during the pandemic — whether it’s setting up an email account to register at a government website or as basic as teaching someone how to use a mouse,” she explains. “I wouldn’t categorize it by age either. Young people may know how to surf the ’net, but they may not know how to stay safe or when information is fake. Then we have folks who are looking to change careers and need new skill sets. The library is here to support all these different people.”

Aldrich says Hawai‘i’s libraries are brimming with resources people don’t know about such as Northstar, which helps you figure out where you need to beef up your computer and internet skills. Or Gale, a series of free courses with online instructors. Hawai‘i is one of the few states with two National Governors Association WIN grants: one to create a one-stop site through the Labor Department to connect people to jobs and safety net benefits and the other, coordinated by Aldrich, to develop a statewide plan to close the digital skill gaps in our workforce. “We’re looking at ways to help people advance at different levels — from basic skills to digital certifications to upgrade our workforce,” she says. Aldrich is also excited about a project promoted by Governor Ige in his State of the State address. “The goal is to rethink how a regional library like Pearl City can be a test bed for new ideas and reimagined spaces,” says Aldrich. “The telehealth navigators are one example of how we can maximize our potential. Libraries need to grow with their communities.”

Read more in the March Capitol Connection newsletter.

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