Community Ambassador wonders why more people don’t take advantage of free tech classes

By Karen Barton/For

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.

A recent conversation with a close friend is beginning to make me wonder what the public and librarians would say if asked, “What is the role of a librarian?” My friend told me that when looking for a book, she is more likely to ask a book clerk than a librarian for book suggestions and that she only depends on librarians to tell her where a book is located. This seems to indicate that librarians either have not conversed with her about her reading interests or that she has a narrow view of the role of a librarian. In reality, a bookstore clerk is least likely to have taken a reference or adult literature course whereas many librarians have and they are also required to stay up-to-date on new, popular literature for collection development purposes. These points then brought me to think about how librarians may describe their role, which they may or may not believe includes technology help.

As a Community Ambassador at the Urbana Free Library and a graduate student on the path to librarianship, I feel that this idea is important to consider as one day I may find myself working beside librarians who do not understand that times have changed and that a major catalyst is technology—technology that leaves those who are on the wrong side of the digital and economic divides no choice but to come to public libraries to fill out government forms and job applications on the Internet, although they may not be skilled at using such technology. At places like the Urbana Free Library, Salt & Light ministries, and Shadow Wood mobile home park’s computer lab, this is where Community Ambassadors step in.

What puzzles me is why so many patrons are not taking advantage of the free Tech 21 classes that I offer at the library and other technology-learning opportunities. A Tech 21 regular even asked me why I think that some people don’t show up, as, in her words, the classes are “very informative.” (I definitely would not make this up just so that I sound like the best tech instructor in the world.) I did not quite have an answer. I have wondered the same and have had quite a few instances where I have helped people in the computer lab with an information need that directly relates to an upcoming class, yet they seem off-put by the idea of attending a class. For instance, I recently helped a senior who thought his email had not been sent since a copy had not been saved in his outbox. This was actually about the third time that I have helped someone with this issue. I showed him how to change his email settings to save sent messages and then sent an email with a bogus recipient to show him what a failure notice looks like. As my Email Basics class was coming up, I gave him a flyer with more details and he seemed to frown at it and then said he would think about it. What I wish to get across to some patrons is that attending classes or setting up appointments for one-on-one computer help may alleviate the need to continuously ask for help in the lab.

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