By Siobhan A. Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia
For many of us, going online whenever we want is something we take for granted. However, an astounding 40 percent of residents in Philadelphia are without home Internet access. What's more, for too many, the sheer act of using a computer to go online remains a foreign and sometimes frightening concept.
All Philadelphians deserve the opportunity to thrive in a 21st-century, technologically rich workforce. And Philadelphia has a responsibility to provide greater Internet accessibility, which will create a more prosperous and vibrant economy for the city.
The Free Library is committed to tackling this issue.
This spring, we began opening Free Library Hot Spots - new computer labs in existing community centers in underserved areas of the city. Each Hot Spot provides computers, Internet access, printers, and a small selection of Free Library materials, including reference books on job searching and resumé writing. Most important, the Hot Spots are run by knowledgeable staff who provide digital literacy training and personal assistance. These Hot Spots complement the 950 public-access computers and free WiFi available throughout the Free Library's 54-branch system.
Four Hot Spots that are funded by the Knight Foundation are already having success. One woman who opened an e-mail account at the West Philadelphia site received one-on-one training in resumé writing and interview preparation. Recently, she reported that she's landed a job. At our North Philadelphia Hot Spot, one teenager regularly gets assistance in online promotion for his clown company, and he regularly attends small-business workshops.
Federal stimulus funds have allowed the Free Library to establish two additional technology labs in neighborhood institutions. Further, early in 2012, the library's techmobile is scheduled to hit the road. This Hot Spot on wheels - as well as our other Hot Spots - will allow us to expand the reach of our services beyond the traditional library walls and reach more people than ever.
More than 4,500 people have visited the Hot Spots, but digital literacy remains a profoundly challenging issue for Philadelphia. The Free Library is committed to bringing critical literacy-based services directly to the communities and residents who need them most. If we provide access to the tools that will allow people to become fully contributing members of today's workforce, we'll move our city forward by leaps and bounds.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.