At 85, Rev. Harry Hawkins is learning to use a computer for the first time. Everyday, he heads to Heavenly Halls Gospel Church, one of four community centers where the Free Library of Philadelphia has set up computer labs to expand digital literacy training and broadband availability.
These "Hot Spots," funded by Knight Foundation's Library Initiative, help patrons in underserved areas where it's often hard to reach the local branch. The Hot Spots also address the gap in Web connectivity in a city where more than 49 percent of residents are living without home broadband Internet access.
Hawkins has a computer at home. But he prefers to head to Heavenly Halls because he says the teachers there make him feel more comfortable learning how to type and because he can do research using the Internet. In fact, Hawkins was recently able to reconnect with a former employer and friend as a result of his newfound skills.
"It's amazing," Hawkins said, referencing the attention he's gotten from his instructors. "The personality, the character it gives us more insight to learn."
Wittily, Hawkins says the instructors remind him that, 'We learn all we can and we can all learn.'
(Video Credit: Asil Lawrence, Village of Arts and Humanities)
The innovative new program has also helped many others.
Vimul Ros, a computer technician working with the program, spoke of another Philadelphia native who went from typing three words per minute at a 30% accuracy rate to typing 10 words per minute at 95% accuracy with just one lesson. He also described a young woman who has visited Heavenly Hall three times a week since it opened for help updating her resume and looking for jobs.
The success unfolding around the Hot Spots project reflects points made during Knight's Library Conference. For more information on how Knight Foundation is helping libraries become digital community centers visit www.knightfoundation.org/library.