Community Ambassador at Urbana Free Library makes a difference

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Karen Barton, Community Ambassador at the Urbana Free Library

CU-CitizenAccess worked with faculty from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science to secure a grant from the state that offers skills training to help participants secure jobs. The money was used to place community ambassadors in public computer labs to offer computer literacy training and workshops to underserved populations from the Urbana Free Library, Salt and Light Food Pantry and Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park as well as a public computer lab in East St. Louis. 

We’ve asked our local computer ambassadors to blog about their experiences.

By Karen Barton/For

Happy belated New Year to all! My name is Karen Barton and I am a Community Ambassador at the Urbana Free Library. This position is made possible by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Eliminate the Digital Divide grant and may best be defined as technology instructor. I am currently pursuing an M.S. in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, however, I was raised in San Antonio, Texas and graduated from the University of Houston with a B.A. in Media Production. I expect to graduate in May 2014 with certificates in Community Informatics and Youth Services. My experience working with nonprofits and the underserved began in high school and has given me a great desire to continue working for the community, especially by creating unique programming for youth and adults. Last year, I committed myself to various community service efforts within the area, once volunteering at the Douglass Library and as a jail librarian with Books To Prisoners.

In order to alleviate some of the need for computer and technology instruction, especially with Urbana School District’s Community Education program ending, I decided to create the Tech 21 program to offer similar classes such as Microsoft Word and Email Basics as well as innovative classes such as The Full-time Job of Job Seeking, which is geared towards online job seeking, and Making the Most of the Web, which covers key informational websites and social media. The majority of patrons who attend classes are over 50, however, people of all ages need computer and technology assistance. Creating and saving documents, sending email, internet searching, and applying for jobs online are some of the most common tasks that patrons ask for assistance with.

Day in and day out I see “regulars” at the Urbana Free Library who have made the lab space their own. I see it as my job to not only assist them with their information and technology needs, but to make all patrons feel welcome and to respect their concerns for the lab space. From working with a patron who had suddenly lost his job and needed a resume to apply online for janitorial work to a patron who needed to create a website to raise money for his sick goddaughter, I have felt a great responsibility to serve patrons to the best of my abilities and it is very fulfilling to know that I have already helped so many people. Now, more patrons are calling to set appointments with me and some patrons even feel that we have such a relationship that they can share their personal histories with me. These are the people that I serve and the people that heavily rely on me and the Urbana Free Library staff.

I feel that many community members are not aware of the many free technology learning opportunities within the Champaign-Urbana community, so I would like to take this opportunity to inform as many people as I can about Urbana Free Library programming. Beginning February 7, I will be assisting the Urbana Free Library with youth programming on Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Beginning in March, activities for all youth will also be offered on Wednesdays. Programming will include 3D Fab Lab creations, crafts, games, drawing, music, and media production. Space is limited. Also, please visit for the Tech 101 and Tech 21 class schedules and call 217-367-4405 to reserve a spot. Patrons may also make appointments to work with me or they may walk in and receive assistance from myself or a tech volunteer. Simply call to see when someone will be available. If you prefer, you may bring your laptop, external devices such as flash drives and cameras, and a list of questions you have. A listing of sites for public computing and computer education can be found at

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