Technicity Times
    Issue 1 • November 2002

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Something New to Check Out at the Library:
Innovative Collaboration With Community Tech Center

by Leslie D. Goodbar

The recently reopened Baldwin Hills Library and student interns from Bresee Foundation have teamed up to provide greater computer access services to local residents. The program is one of the first of its kind to combine the strengths of The Los Angeles Public Library system and a community technology center to help close the technology gap.

"We had two very good city librarians who believed very strongly in technology and in taking advantage of every opportunity. It's a process that's been building over fifteen, twenty years," said Laura Dwan, Baldwin Hills senior librarian. Funded by 1998 bond-measure Proposition DD, the library was rebuilt and upgraded from the ground up to house 32 public access computers in designated areas for children, teens and adults, as well as library users searching library catalogs and over 180 databases.

"The Bresee students are really great in helping people who haven't used the library before, haven't used the computers before," said Dwan. The interns guide users with everything from how to set up their first e-mail account to research school projects to learning word processing, as well as managing the computer sign-ups for all 32 stations. "There is enormous opportunities for cooperation as we're doing with Bresee to have students who are trained come in and support people who are learning," said Dwan.

Through the Workforce Investment Act fund, Bresee trains students 14 - 21 years old with job-readiness skills such as how to write a resume, dress for an interview, compose cover letters and then helps them locate an internship according to their career interests.

"I think it helps on both ends," said Chantelle Frazee, employment training coordinator at Bresee, who believes on-the-job experience is a crucial component to their career development program.

"It's interesting because you meet a lot of new people. You help them out with their problems and you learn more," said Berner Ortiz, 16, an intern at Baldwin Hills who was offered a part-time job working Saturdays.

"It was kinda neat to see him grow through it," Frazee said. "To see him learning to take charge of that area."

Cathy Trout, director of technology and employment, agrees that kids like Berner have really had an opportunity to flourish. "It's been an ongoing job experience for him that he wouldn't have if it hadn't been for Laura and being willing to take a chance with our kids," Trout said.

Asked about his favorite part of the job, Ortiz answers, "Computers."

But while the program has made a positive impact in increasing technology literacy for both the interns and an enormous number of Baldwin Hills residents who otherwise would have had no Internet access, the greater issue of the digital divide appears to be far from resolved.

"Sitting at a public machine with a time limit is very different from hopping up in the middle of the night to check your e-mail," Dwan said. "Just on the facts, we offer two hours a day. We don't open till 10:00 or 12:00 and we close at 8:00. So working parents have no access right there.

"And many of the children who are in here — we ask them if they can't bring their parents in. And they say, 'No! Mom's working two jobs. Dad's working two jobs. They're not home.' So just the limitation of hours alone means the library doesn't solve the digital divide."

Still, according to Eliseo Velasquez, a Bresee intern working at Baldwin Hills Library, some parents in the Hispanic community have had their first introduction to computers through their children.

"You would see them with their kids. And later on, they see their kids playing on the computers. So they want to know what's it about. And the next thing you know, they're coming by themselves," Velasquez said.

When asked what would happen if there were more programs like the one at Baldwin Hills, Velasquez said, "I think more people would come."


Leslie Goodbar is a freelance writer and advertising consultant.
lgoodbar@technicitytimes.com

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