Library program aims to improve computer literacy

Staff Writer
So much is done on the computer these days yet many Ohioans aren’t computer literate. A new program of Ohio’s libraries and AmeriCorps aims to change this.
The program, Guiding Ohio Online, will offer computer classes this fall at 30 rural libraries throughout the state, including the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library.
Guiding Ohio Online was formed through a partnership between the State Library of Ohio, which provides services to libraries in Ohio, and AmeriCorps, a government-sponsored service network.
Mandy Knapp, library consultant at the State Library of Ohio, said this marks the first such collaboration between the State Library of Ohio and AmeriCorps.
Knapp said rural libraries are a focus because in general, people in bigger cities have better Internet access. In rural areas, not everyone may have access but libraries are one place where community members can get on the Internet.
The State Library of Ohio saw a need for the program since so much information is only available online, including government information and job applications. Knapp said even entry-level jobs usually require computer skills, noting that at least one fast-food restaurant now requires job seekers to apply online.
Holding such skills is called “digital literacy,” Knapp said.
At the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, adult services manager Sarah Clevidence said about one-third of the questions librarians receive at the reference desk are technology-related, such as patrons who want one-on-one instruction on various devices. Clevidence said library staff do as much as they can but are finding there is a need for more training.
Surveys have found that two obstacles libraries face in helping people gain digital literacy are not having enough staff and not having enough computers, Knapp said. The AmeriCorps teachers, therefore, are being brought in to increase staffing in libraries. They will be trained specifically on how to help new computer users.
The 30 libraries participating will have 10 full-time and 20 part-time AmeriCorps members who will serve between October and August 2015. Findlay’s AmeriCorps representative will be part-time.
Knapp said Guiding Ohio Online has a curriculum designed to start with someone who may never have used a computer before. They learn the parts of the computer such as the mouse and then how to get online and use email and social media as well as software like Excel, PowerPoint and Word.
Knapp said they wanted to particularly focus on skills that would enhance someone’s employability but they will teach some personal skills as well, such as how to stay in touch with others through Skype, email and Facebook.
Knapp said there are fears around some things such as online banking, so they will discuss the risks but also the benefits.
Guiding Ohio Online is providing lesson plans, presentations and handouts for AmeriCorps workers to use, but they will also be encouraged to create their own lessons and handouts.
Classes are free and will be open to anyone who wants to take them, although Knapp is hoping to reach low-income community members in particular.
Most of the funding is paid for through a $265,589 AmeriCorps Formula grant the State Library of Ohio received from ServeOhio, Ohio’s commission on service and volunteerism.
Each library participating in the program has also paid a matching amount. The Findlay library has contributed $1,250.
The Findlay-Hancock County Public Library is in the process of accepting applications for the AmeriCorps position. AmeriCorps members, of which there are 75,000 nationwide, complete “intensive service” at nonprofit organizations, schools, public agencies and community and faith-based groups. Members receive a living allowance, health care and an education award that can be used to pay for college, graduate school or to pay back qualified student loans.
AmeriCorps members are often young adults but there is no age limit. Anyone wanting to apply can go to
Knapp said her hope is that the AmeriCorps members have not just computer skills but patience and the ability to explain complicated concepts in an easy way.
Knapp is herself a former AmeriCorps member, having tutored at-risk youth in Washington state.
She said if people “want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” the role of the library is to be here and “show you how to lace your boots.”
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