The American Library Association (ALA) and libraries have a long and increasingly recognized commitment to addressing digital inclusion and digital readiness needs in the United States. I count my own engagement back more than a decade talking to reporters about the role libraries play in providing both a digital safety net and a launching pad for deeper technology use to advance education, employment and creativity.
In the wake of the National Broadband Plan and new opportunities at the Federal Communications Commission, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy convened a digital literacy task force in 2011. Librarians from school, public and academic libraries delved more deeply into issues of effective practice, assessing impact, and building capacity to raise awareness of library work in this space and how to further advance it. These lessons and research from the Digital Inclusion Survey have continued to inform our work—from E-rate to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act advocacy.
So, when staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reached out to ALA, we were happy to talk about an emerging initiative to address the divide we both see clearly for low-income Americans. Not only is it the right thing to do, but we know America’s libraries already are doing this work day in and day out and are actively engaged in building locally relevant solutions to address community priorities. Committing to work with local libraries to deliver tailored, on-site digital literacy programming and resources to public housing residents is a “no-brainer.”
The launch of ConnectHome last week marked a milestone in this work, and we were excited to help kick off the program with a statement featuring ALA President Sari Feldman and Oklahoma State Librarian Susan McVey on-site representing libraries at the event with President Obama in Durant, Okla. I was pleased to join HUD Secretary Julián Castro in the Bronx with Metropolitan New York Library Council executive director Nate Hill and New York Public Library President Anthony Marx; and North Carolina State Librarian Cal Shepard met the Secretary later that day in Durham, N.C., along with Durham County Public Library Director Tammy Baggett and N.C. Chief Deputy Secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources Karin Cochran (see Cal’s blog here).
Nationally, the program will initially reach over 275,000 low-income households – and nearly 200,000 children – with the support needed to access the Internet at home. Internet service providers, non-profits and the private sector will offer broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices for residents in assisted housing units.
As much as I enjoyed hearing from Secretary Castro, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and others at the Mott Haven Community Center, meeting and brainstorming with ConnectHome collaborators PBS, New York Public Media and GitHub was even more fun. The options for digital content creation, collaboration and distribution to advance education and community engagement – at both the local and national levels – were dizzying. Of course, it helps that more libraries already are engaging with GitHub and that ALA and libraries have a long history of programming with PBS and public media through the National Endowment for the Humanities.
I expect the excitement and possibility of our conversation last week will be played out dozens of times in the coming months in the 28 communities where ConnectHome will pilot. Libraries will find both familiar community collaborators and new opportunities to serve public housing residents and explore new intersections. Building greater awareness of libraries’ roles in meeting community needs, creating and strengthening relationships with governmental, non-profit and commercial partners, and building mutually beneficial and impactful programs and policy responses are at the heart of the Policy Revolution! initiative and the future of libraries.
Like pretty much everyone outside the Obama administration, ALA learned which communities would be in the pilot last Wednesday and began reaching out to library directors in these communities:
Albany, GA; Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Baton Rouge, LA; Boston, MA; Camden, NJ; Choctaw Nation, OK; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Durham, NC; Fresno, CA; Kansas City, MO; Little Rock, AR; Los Angeles, CA; Macon, GA; Memphis, TN; Meriden, CT; Nashville, TN; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Rockford, IL; San Antonio, TX; Seattle, WA; Springfield, MA; Tampa, FL; and Washington, DC.
Last week’s launch, of course, was just the beginning. ALA looks forward to amplifying the great work already underway in libraries in ConnectHome communities and coordinating directly with libraries to support their work individually and as a group, as well as develop and share relevant resources.
Does your library have a relationship with its Public Housing Authority already? We’d love to hear about it! Do you have other questions or suggestions about ConnectHome? Check out the FAQ or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.