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Senior services at St. Louis County Library

To close out May as Senior Citizen month, we are highlighting a library that provides digital literacy training for older (and younger) adults. We know that older adults have been slower to adopt digital technology. Some do not realize how using the web, email, or social media might be helpful and rewarding to them. Older adults are eager to preserve their independence and that is next to impossible without broadband technology and the knowledge to use it. This guest blog is provided by Matthew Lakin, training manager at St. Louis County Library.

St. Louis County Library (SLCL) has been actively involved in senior digital literacy for more than a decade. At the forefront of the library’s digital literacy initiative are small-group computer classes. More than 30 computing basics, web-based concepts and software specific classes are offered. Library staff present a Bring-Your-Own-Device series of classes allowing patrons to learn on their phones or tablets. These are divided into Android-based and Apple-based classes and offer three or four levels of instruction respectively.

Each year library staff present slightly more than 1,000 classes spread out between most of our twenty branches. Class attendance is not exclusively seniors, but they make up the majority of attendees at about 70 percent. In a typical year, around 7,500 students receive instruction.

In addition to formal classes, SLCL staff offer less formal lecture-style engagements called Tech Talks. A Tech Talk consists of more general topics often at the request of patrons. Patrons in attendance range from 8 to 20 on average depending on the branch. Some of the most popular topics may draw as many as 70 or more patrons. Tech Talks explaining what the Cloud is or Internet Safety routinely draw larger audiences, often exceeding 50.

Perhaps the most effective of SLCL’s Senior Digital Literacy efforts is the Book-a-Trainer Program. This service, which was formalized in 2013, allows patrons to schedule one-on-one appointments with one of the trainers. While Book-a-Trainer appointments are not offered in lieu of formal classes, these appointments can bridge the gap between what is offered as a class and what a patron may need. With the number of device types constantly expanding, patrons are seeking assistance more frequently.

Examples of common Book-a-Trainer requests include older adults reentering the job market and asking for help with the ubiquitous online application process. Also, many patrons need help when updating to a new phone or device. Some need help communicating with distant family through Facebook and many just want to stay current and finally find out what people are talking about when they say Twitter or Snapchat. SLCL conducted about 6,000 Book-a-Trainer appointments during 2017.

We also get some amusing requests. At least a couple times each year, someone asks staff to design, build, and maintain a business website for them. Obviously, staff can’t do that but they can offer them assistance in locating resources or learning to accomplish their goals themselves.

Staff are finding that our three-pronged approach to senior digital literacy — formal classes, Tech Talks, and Book-a-Trainer appointments — exceeds the expectations of seniors and non-seniors alike. This strategy also drives senior networking opportunities and enhances their abilities to embrace technology.

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Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Washington Office. Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books, and other public policy issues. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MA in media arts from the University of Arizona.

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