Campbell: Providing digital resources, community at the modern public library

Today’s digital environment has changed the role of the public library and pushed its traditional mission beyond just building collections to creating community on a larger scale.

When a recent community survey in Ohio asked library patrons to give five words describing the library of their youth and then five words to describe a public library 20 years from now, the change in language was startling. While the library was nostalgically described with words such as “books,” “research,” “reading” and “quiet,” the language of the future was “technology,” “community,” “access” and “information.”

Recent studies show that more Americans than ever are turning to their public libraries for a diverse range of technology resources and training essential to full participation in the nation’s economy. Nowhere is this more evident than at the West Chicago Public Library District, which provides a vital community link to the Internet, technology and information. By providing free access to computers and Internet services to those who could not otherwise access these resources, the Library is helping to bridge the digital divide – the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in the digital age.

Community access has become an important component of public library service. Many resources and services today are increasingly available only online, leaving people without access or the knowledge to use computers at a considerable disadvantage. The West Chicago Library helps to bridge the access gap by providing patrons with computers and Internet access, as well as Wi-Fi service.

Teaching basic computer skills has become another key public library service requirement, as information technology skills have become essential for developing both job skills and social interactions. In the past year, thanks to a generous donation from the Library Foundation, a mobile training lab of 10 computers makes it possible for the library to offer instruction in basic computer use and software. These formal computer training classes add to the variety of patron technology training opportunities already in place, including information point-of-use assistance, online training materials and one-on-one sessions by appointment.

The West Chicago Public Library District strives to enrich the lives of patrons in our diverse community by embracing its role in bridging the digital divide. The generous support of the Library Foundation enables us to continue to expand services and innovate practices to serve the community’s needs.

Shelley Campbell is the public relations specialist for the West Chicago Public Library District