FCC’s New Digital Literacy & Broadband Initiative Recognizes the Role Libraries Play Now & in the Future!

This morning at 10 am Eastern the FCC announced a new initiative aimed at closing the digital divide (access to broadband the necessary technology) and address digital literacy issues. Connect to Compete is

A private and nonprofit sector partnership to promote broadband adoption and improve outcomes in disadvantaged communities.

I missed the live broadcast so as I looked over the website and the announcement from the Knight Foundation I grew increasingly concerned about the lack of mention of public libraries! How could they not know we’re at the front line of all of this! And, as you know, I’ve been awaiting more information on the Digital Literacy Corps since I read about the idea in the National Broadband Plan.

That’s why I was very grateful to find a pdf of the remarks. I’ve pulled out the sections regarding libraries but I strongly urge you to take the time to read the whole thing and become familiar with the Connect to Compete initiative.

On Digital Literacy Corps:

And building on a big idea developed in the National Broadband Plan, we’re proposing to work with America’s schools and public libraries to launch a Digital Literacy Corps to help promote and teach digital literacy.

Digital literacy refers to the basic skills necessary to seize the opportunities of broadband Internet – how to use a computer, navigate the web, or take actions like preparing and uploading an online resume, or processing a basic Internet transaction. If you’re not digitally literate you’re at a significant disadvantage in the workforce. 50 percent of today’s jobs require some technology skills – and this percentage is expected to grow to 77 percent in the next decade.

In the coming weeks and months, we are going to work with schools and libraries and tap their experience and wisdom to develop the best ways those institutions can help to close America’s digital skills gap.

I can’t wait to see how this plays out! I hope it is the form of true interaction vs the DigitalLiteracy.gov initiative that just encouraged librarians to dumb information into a website.

For millions of Americans, libraries are the only place where they can get online. For millions more, libraries are an important complement to at-home connectivity, and they remain, as they always have been, a trusted resource in communities.

During the day, libraries have become job centers and librarians career counselors – and after school a place where many students go to do homework online. Last year, more than 30 million Americans used library connections to seek and apply for jobs, and 12 million children used them to do homework. Millions of others are using library connections for health information.

Hallelujah! So great to this recognized outside of a library community based report!

Many –but not enough – of America’s 16,000 public libraries have become vital centers for digital literacy.

We’ve done a damn fine job, if I do say so myself, given the economy and the shocking budget cuts we’ve faced, thank-you-very-much.

Librarians are helping meet some of the vast need — and I applaud them. But according to a recent Gates Foundation-funded survey, only 38% of all libraries offer a basic digital literacy class. In rural areas, in places like West Virginia, it’s only 25% of libraries. That’s a big missed opportunity. We should aim to double those numbers. The E-Rate program – one of our most successful programs – connects schools and libraries to the Internet. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the great champion of E-Rate who, along with Senator Olympia Snowe and others, created the program, once said, “Our classrooms and our libraries are often the only way that our children and citizens can tap into the wonders of computers and the links to a vast world of information and knowledge. We want schools to be a place where children delve into computers. We want libraries to be vibrant centers of learning for families.” In that spirit, we plan to launch a proceeding to explore how the E-Rate program can expand access to digital literacy training at more public libraries and schools across the country and,
ultimately, forming a Digital Literacy Corps.

A good start would be some funding for:

  • technology can’t learn the latest and greatest unless you have it yourself,
  • staff training so everyone is comfortable with new technologies
  • adequate staffing so that all staff can attend training without worrying about being understaffed
  • a long term plan that acknowledges that staff training will need to be on going and that technology will need to be updated yearly, not every five years

Working with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), including its Director Susan Hildreth, who’s here with us today, a Digital Literacy Corps could help Americans, young or old, English- or Spanish-speaking, get the skills they need to find and apply for a job, to access educational classes, find health care information, and utilize e-government resources, helping accelerate e-government and reduce spending on paper.

Hurray for IMLS!

Microsoft has announced it will build a state-of-the-art online digital literacy training center, with videos and other easy-to-follow content, so if you’re in a city without an in-person digital literacy class, you can still log-on at a local library, school, or other community center and get the skills you need.

oooooh fancy. Can’t wait to see what this includes. Apple products? 🙂

To help close this gap, Microsoft, beginning in 15 states over the next three years and quickly expanding nationwide, has announced it will work with its partners to deploy training in Microsoft Office through its retail stores, local schools, libraries and community colleges.

This announcement is only the first step in a very long road. Each of these initiatives and partnerships must be set in place and functional, and the US already lags behind in internet adoption and digital literacy. We have a long road ahead of us but acknowledging the import role of libraries, currently and in the future, shows we’re on the right path.

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