BEHIND THE SCENES: MULTNOMAH COUNTY LIBRARY, OREGON
The Library’s Role in Cultivating Digital Literacy Interview with Amy Honisett, Public Training Librarian, Multnomah County Library
Can you tell us more about Multnomah County Library’s program to bridge the digital divide? Multnomah County Library offers a number of programs designed to help bridge the digital divide. The library is a safe, free place for people to come learn digital skills, including the most basic computer skills – learning to use a mouse, learning to use a computer keyboard – to more advanced skills like email, spreadsheets, and word processing. The beginning computer learner may feel intimidated. Library classes are a low stakes way to gain familiarity with the computer, for the learner to build their confidence and gain the skills needed to move on to more advanced subjects. Library classes also bring learners together, in order to learn from each other. Multnomah County Library offers a number of free classes, as well as one-on-one help with volunteers and with library staff. The library has partnered with Portland State University’s Literacy, Language, and Technology Research group to work on a study funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This study will investigate how library patrons and non-patrons solve problems in
NTEN: CHANGE | MARCH 2015
a technology-rich environment, and we hope this will help us determine ways to further meet our patrons’ technology-training and digital literacy needs. Access is another extremely important factor in bridging the digital divide. The library system is the largest provider of free broadband access in the area. Nearly two million people accessed public PC and wifi sessions at Multnomah County Library in fiscal year 2013.
Who are the people that participate in this program? People from a variety of age groups and backgrounds attend Multnomah County Library classes. Seniors often attend our classes to gain technology skills, as do job changers and people who want to increase their technology skills for work or for a personal project. The library has recently started offering classes in
Spanish, Russian, and Chinese, as well as English, and we hope to soon offer classes in Vietnamese, too. Multnomah County Library also offers lab time, during which patrons can use Internet-enabled computers, with support from a computer lab assistant. At various library locations, this assistance is offered in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
How do you promote this project to your community to get participation? Library classes and events are promoted on the library’s website (multcolib.org), as well as in local newspapers and on flyers at the library and in the community. Library staff are instrumental in informing the community about classes. Not only do staff discuss class options with patrons in the library, they also spend time in the communities we serve. Facts
• State: Oregon • Year Established: 1864, it is the oldest public library west of the Mississippi River • Number of Staff Members: 604 regular status employees, 91 on-call staff (March 2015) • Number of People Trained: Over 2,000 (2014) • Funder: Funded as a library district through property taxes provided by Multnomah County property owners in Oregon • Operating Budget: $67.2 million (FY 2014)
What is your approach to teaching digital literacy to communities that are not traditionally online? I believe in supporting learners with written material that contains clear and easy to understand language, rather than jargon.
Digital Inclusion and Technical Divides: What's Next?