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
"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
"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
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,"
When asked what would happen if there were more programs like the
one at Baldwin Hills, Velasquez said, "I think more people
Leslie Goodbar is a freelance writer and advertising