Bridging the Digital Divide One Library Patron at a Time

With our ever-growing reliance on technology to navigate our daily lives, it’s shocking to hear that one-third of Angelenos still do not have Internet at home. As millions turn to the Los Angeles Public Library for free access to computers, the Internet, wireless access, eBooks, eMusic, and eEverything, simply getting to a computer is only solving part of the problem. For those who are inexperienced or uncomfortable using technology, the Library Foundation supports the Cybernauts program, offering personal concierge-like technology assistance to Library users of all ages.

“What’s great about the Cybernauts program, is that it puts learning into play,” says Karen Gavidia, an enthusiastic Cybernaut at the Exposition Park branch, pictured below. “It’s about teaching and keeping patrons updated on technology that is constantly changing and piquing their interest about what’s out there.” Cybernauts are savvy at providing help on a range of issues—from creating email accounts, using word processing and photo sharing programs, to filling out job applications and tax forms. “Teaching a lot of basic things has a long term impact on how people use technology,” explains Gavidia.

Like many of the Cybernauts, Gavidia is from the community she serves and has become a welcoming face in her neighborhood branch. “I used to be a regular patron and a lot of patrons feel more comfortable coming in and asking questions because they recognize me and I can speak Spanish with them.” Bryan Bazalar, another bilingual Cybernaut and nearby resident of his Panorama City branch, considers himself lucky to be a part of such an inspiring program, which was partially conceived as a way to offer meaningful job training to young adults. He’s currently getting his Masters in Library Science and loves the everyday challenges of problem solving.

“The Internet is not always a clear solution, so I enjoy sitting down with a patron and getting their whole story, and then helping try to solve their issues,” says Bazalar. In his branch, he manages the Student Zones where he helps students with research—teaching students how to use online search engines and find information beyond cursory sites like Google and Wikipedia. But he also has noticed a lot of basic questions arising from students and adults alike on keyboarding issues, so he began offering a weekly keyboarding class to address these needs.

“The biggest benefit that I see patrons get from our coaching is confidence, and that’s very important to overcome fears of using the Internet,” says Bazalar. This year, the Cybernaut program expanded to 32 neighborhood branches as well as Central Library thanks to the generous supporters of the Library Foundation.

As part of the Library’s mission to provide free access to ideas and information, these innovative programs are also empowering individuals through technology supported by the Library Foundation:

  • Full STEAM AheadA fun, integrated science, technology, engineering, art, and math program that sparks the imagination, and develops perseverance, problem-solving, and self-confidence. The Library is collaborating with a number of partners, such as Los Angeles Makerspace, Iridescent, Nine Dots, and The Exploratory, to teach workshops in areas like computer programming, electronics and robotics, 3D modeling and printing, animation, filmmaking, and more.
  • Live Homework Help—A free online tutoring service that offers one-on-one help with math, science, social studies, English, and Spanish to students in Kindergarten through first-year college as well as adult learners.
  • Student Zones—Offering teens and children access to dedicated computers, equipment, and furniture during the after-school hours, including the free use of books, subscription databases, printing, school supplies, trained personnel, and other learning resources.
  • Adult Literacy—Committed to breaking the cycle of low literacy in our community, Adult Literacy Services help adults with English literacy skills below a sixth grade level to improve their reading and writing proficiency through one-on-one tutoring as well as self-directed, online practice.

Learn more about these technology initiatives at lfla.org and lapl.org.

 

 

 

La Cybernauta

I think people come to the library because they like to be around information.  Everyone should have that privilege.  Collectively and individually, we’re empowered by knowledge.  Libraries house vast amounts of information and provide professionals who can organize, interpret, and make this information accessible to the whole community.” – Eva Rios-Alvarado, Cybernaut, Los Angeles Public Library

Carlos Luna is a regular at the Echo Park Branch Library.  He’s known by name by all the staff.  Without hesitation he states, “I’m comfortable here.”  He looks to be in his mid-to-late 20s, he’s fond of heavy metal, plays guitar, is looking for work, taking La Computer Happy Hour classes at the branch, recently started his own blog (which he learned in class at the Library), and is a member of the Library’s chess club that meets every Tuesday.  He’s also teaching some kids how to play chess – apparently one of his apprentices is the next Bobby Fischer.  I catch him in the lobby conversing with his friend Maria Hermosillo, a young mother who brings along her two children most of the time so they can do their homework and take art classes.  Maria volunteers at the branch and also takes La Computer Happy Hour classes that are taught by the branch’s Cybernaut Eva Rios-Alvarado.

“Eva is the best!  Put that in your story.”  Carlos nods in approval as Maria goes on, “She’s patient and she makes you feel comfortable – nice, calm, and down to earth.  She takes her time to break everything down until you get it.  She showed me how to apply for jobs online, upload and download files…so much.”

Eva is one of 24 Cybernauts in the Los Angeles Public Library system.  She will resign soon to pursue her Masters in Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, which will be a bittersweet next chapter.  Eva’s adored at the branch.  She knows patrons by first name and people constantly stop to talk to her.  It is the kind of love you get when you give a lot of love.  It is beautiful to see the sense of community in action at the Echo Park branch.

Cybernauts, currently stationed at 24 of the 73 Los Angeles Public Libraries, help library patrons more easily navigate their computer needs.  As the program offers support to library users, it also provides relevant professional experience to young adults in the community who work as the aides in these part-time positions funded by the generous donors of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.  Cybernauts answer basic questions (e.g. how to reserve a computer, how to sign-on to the KidsPath, or even how to use a mouse) to more advanced questions (e.g. accessing and navigating the Library’s catalog and databases like EBSCOhost, which offers users access to e-Books, e-Audiobooks, e-Videos and e-Music).  Some also teach group classes.

La Computer Happy Hour was conceived and implemented by Eva back when the Echo Park’s then senior librarian, Lisa Palombi, challenged her to think of ways to engage community patrons.  “I call it La Computer Happy Hour on purpose; Spanglish is used in this community!”  Eva laughs.  She continues, “By teaching the class in both Spanish and English, I am able to serve a wider audience.  Most of the people that attend prefer to learn in Spanish.  I actually teach in both languages during the same class – Native English speakers have told me that it helps them learn Spanish and those uncomfortable with English learn too.”  Classes are on Wednesday’s and Friday’s from 3:30 – 4:30 pm and cover topics such as: typing, exploring the web, email, LAPL’s online catalog, sharing images and Facebook, digital storytelling, and blogging.

“As long as there’s information, we need space for people to access it and those who can organize it.  Libraries are essential to our communities.  You see many of the same people every day using it for various purposes; it’s for all of us.  Whether you read the magazines, take art classes for kids, meet up with your comadres, look for jobs – - you see people grow.”

Well said.

For more information on the Cybernaut program please contact 213-228-7507 or imaniharris@lfla.org.

–Story and photo by Imani Harris