Guest Post by Cal Shepard, State Librarian of North Carolina
On July 16 I made my way to a small recreation center in the middle of an urban neighborhood in Durham, N.C. Not my usual haunt on a summer afternoon, to be sure! I went to hear Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro announce the ConnectHome project as Durham is one of 27 pilot cities. The initiative will expand high-speed broadband by making it available and affordable to low-income families living in public housing.
Secretary Castro came to the T.A. Grady Recreation Center in Durham to talk about how children and adults alike need to be connected in order to do homework and learn digital literacy skills. One of the goals of this initiative is to build regional partnerships and Secretary Castro made sure to recognize ALL partners during his remarks (including the American Library Association.)
Librarians know that far too many Americans currently lack the technology access and skills to participate fully in education, employment and civic life. Broadband is essential, and I am pleased President Obama has made digital opportunity for all a top priority. In Durham county last year, public library users signed on to 360,000 sessions on library computers, and were offered more than 350 free digital literacy courses, from basic computer classes to advanced Microsoft Office and graphic design training. And that is just within the walls of the library!
Later this year Durham County Public Library Director Tammy Baggett and her staff will begin offering technology-based courses in the Oxford Manor public housing community, including programs that focus on STEAM literacy for children and teens, and job readiness computer training for adults.
This is what libraries do every day — we connect with partners to move our communities forward. Last Thursday I met multiple people, and I can see working with any one of them for the benefit of libraries and our communities throughout North Carolina. I learned about organizations that I didn’t even know existed and swapped business cards like I was playing a card game! I’m sure that not all of these contacts will result in lasting relationships, but I am guessing that a few of them will—if not today then tomorrow or next year.
And THIS is why I’m excited about this project in Durham. While the ConnectHome idea may come from Washington, the execution will come from the local level. In the process, the library will make new friends and develop new partners. That is good for everybody and makes us all stronger.
By the way – after the event Secretary Castro was looking forward to his first taste of famous North Carolina barbecue. I wonder how he liked it?