By Susan Hildreth
I was pleased yesterday to join FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at the Southwest Family Enhancement Center in Washington, D.C., to welcome HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Best Buy’s Scott Durchslag to the Connect2Compete initiative. Connect2Compete, or C2C for short, is an effort we’re excited about at IMLS that will help bridge the digital divide to make literacy training and Internet access available to the millions of Americans without home connectivity.
At yesterday’s event we heard from Beverly Barlow, a mother of two who resides at Washington D.C. Housing Authority’s Richardson Dwellings. Last year, she enrolled in the Southwest Family Enhancement Center job readiness career-training program. She used her training and new skills to become a Certified Microsoft Office Specialist and continues to come to the center to conduct her electronic job hunt. This is the kind of story we’d like to see repeated many times over because so many of the four million residents of public housing are not connected to the Internet, noted Secretary Donovan.
HUD’s work to connect Americans to technology dates back at least 18 years to its Neighborhood Networks program, which was one of the first federal initiatives aimed at providing technology access to residents living in HUD communities. HUD will now be reaching out through its channels to public housing residents with the digital literacy message of C2C.
Another exciting part of the announcement was from Scott Durchslag, Best Buy’s president of online and global e-commerce, who described the launch of national digital training programs at the C2C partner facilities, which will begin in six cities this spring and expand to an additional six cities by this summer. HUD and Best Buy’s GeekSquad are also testing a digital literacy curriculum that teaches new computer users how to connect to the Internet and search and communicate online. It also includes best practices on Internet safety and information on basic PC functionality.
Though perhaps little known, libraries, museums, and public housing have strong partnerships in many communities. The Colorado State Library, through the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program, is creating digital literacy centers throughout the state. The Southeast Greeley Literacy Center, in the clubhouse of the Weld Housing Authority, provides programs and services to a community that has limited education and financial resources and lacks easy access to transportation. Training is available for Microsoft Office software, GED preparation, and other critical skill development for employment opportunities.
The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is collaborating with the New York City Housing Authority to create a new community-engagement model that embeds the museum’s interactive exhibits and educational programs within public housing developments in East Harlem, NY. In addition to interactive exhibits focusing on early literacy and health, the museum and housing authority are developing programs for parent-child engagement, professional development for parents and caregivers, workforce programs for public housing and community residents, and access to other community resources for older children and families – all of which depend on good access to broadband. Digital literacy for children and their parents and caregivers is a key ingredient for success in school and the workplace.
Libraries and museums stand at the ready to help people develop the 21st century skills they need for success in today’s economy. As we prepare for the nationwide public launch of the C2C digital literacy campaign on March 21, 2013, know that our 17,000 public libraries and 17,500 museums are ready for the challenge.