No request too small: Toledo Lucas County Public Library and Narrowing the Digital Divide

Off the Shelf - Fall 2021

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The Richard G. LaValley Computers and Media department opened at Main Library in 2019. It is home to 56 public computers as well as a collaborative workspace with 11 computers for teaching and learning.

No request too small

Toledo Lucas County Public Library and Narrowing the Digital Divide

by STEPHANIE ELTON

It is a phrase that seems intertwined with the coronavirus pandemic: the Digital Divide. The pivot to virtual experiences—from telecommuting and online classrooms to social activities and applying for important services like unemployment—further exposed the gaps our community faces when it comes to digital skills, obtaining affordable computer hardware, and reliable Internet access.

This disparity has been a concern for decades and one the Library is well-positioned to address.

“Libraries are trusted places for learning, collaboration, and community,” said TLCPL Executive Director Jason Kucsma. “With its resources, staff, and dedicated spaces, the Toledo Library is prepared to support customers as they expand their skills and access the technology they need.”

Navigating the 21st century job search

For Terwase Ngur, Toledo Library’s manager of the Richard G. LaValley Computers and Media department, narrowing the Digital Divide has been a driving force in his library career. His “aha moment” took place about three years ago when he served as an assistant manager at Toledo Library’s Holland location.

“I remember, a customer came up to me in the Holland library. He had a master’s degree—he was your ideal employee—but he didn’t know how to look for a job online. He wasn’t in that space. Previously, he just walked into a company, introduced himself, presented his resume, and he was hired.”

Ngur recalled helping the customer maneuver online job searches, from browsing job boards to submitting online applications.

“He and I sat together for a couple of weeks. I would show him how to navigate, how to store his information so that he could create a thank you letter, or where his cover letter was located.” Ngur continued, “Then when I didn’t see him, I started getting discouraged. I wanted to see that he landed on his feet or something good had happened.”

After some time, the customer returned to the Library with a binder under his arm. Inside was an offer letter from an employer, which he shared with Ngur.

" …finding useful information within the deluge of online content is a skill—and it’s what librarians are trained to do. "

“I said, ‘This is great!’ and gave it back to him.” The customer insisted that he keep reading the letter, saying “This happened because of you, because you sat with me.”

“It was just so exciting to see this man’s success,” Ngur said. “It really reaffirmed why I’m here, why am I doing this, and why the work matters.”

Being there when needed

“Books really are just the beginning at the Library,” said Ngur. “Since the inception of Google, the thought is that finding information is really, really easy. However, finding useful information within the deluge of online content is a skill—and it’s what librarians are trained to do.”

He added that computer and technology help at the Library goes beyond searching for information.

“It really runs the gamut, from everyday technologies we use at home and talking about your devices—your phones, your tablets, your computer—to office software.”

Other technical help requests that librarians receive are directly connected to customers’ day-to-day needs. Their ability to access food and heat assistance, Medicaid, job services, and other online support hinges on their ability to interact with technology.

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With its proximity to the courthouse on Adams Street and organizations like the Cherry Street Mission and St. Paul’s Community Center, Main Library is uniquely positioned to respond to this deep need for assistance. It is why Ngur sees Main Library’s downtown location as one of its many strengths. It is also a reason he was excited to work in the new Richard G. LaValley Computers and Media department when it opened in Fall 2019 after extensive renovations throughout the building.

“There always seems to be someone that needs help with a document really, really quickly,” Ngur said, “such as ‘how do I fill out this form to get such and such service.’”

Building on those calls for help, the Toledo Library is developing relationships with local and statewide agencies like the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) and has recently entered into a partnership with OhioMeansJobs.

“When our customers need help with ODJFS, they come to us with the expectation that we understand the outside system,” shared Ngur.

" It’s hard to believe you have changed someone’s trajectory with those types of exchanges, but we do. "

“Their first thought is to come to the Library—which is great—so we are working to make sure we can help.”

With OhioMeansJobs representatives now on site at Main Library six days a week, customers have access to experts who can assist with applying for employment and trade opportunities through ohiomeansjobs.ohio.gov as well as receive resume and job training help.

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Librarians at the Toledo Library help customers find pertinent information online, answer questions about their personal devices, and assist with other technical requests such as creating a LinkedIn profile, learning email basics, and navigating Google’s free online tools.

Looking ahead

Incorporated throughout the Library’s 2021-2021 Strategic Roadmap (see pages 12 and 13) are references to training, connection, technology, and resources—all areas that tie directly back to closing the Digital Divide.

“The type of exchanges where a customer comes in assuming their request is some insurmountable thing—these are usually quite simple to resolve with a few quick keystrokes,” said Ngur.

“It’s hard to believe you have changed someone’s trajectory with those types of exchanges, but we do. I’d say that is a testament of the breadth of the Digital Divide and how imperative it is we offer these customers help before they are completely left behind.”


CAREER & ECONOMIC SUCCESS

OHIOMEANSJOBS – LUCAS COUNTY AT THE LIBRARY
OhioMeansJobs staff is now onsite at Main Library to help with career exploration, resume development, job search assistance, and access to training. Walk-ins are welcome Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturdays. More at toledolibrary.org/OhioMeansJobs.

TEACHING LAB
The Teaching Lab at Main Library is a collaborative workspace with 11 computers that organizations can use for training, workshops, and more. To reserve this space, contact Terwase Ngur at 419.214.6126 or terwase.ngur@toledolibrary.org.

Open Computer Labs
Available at all locations during open hours. Customers can receive assistance with resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, online job applications, Microsoft Office, Google, social media, device assistance, and more.

Make an Appointment
Schedule an appointment with the Library’s Computer and Media librarians where they can answer your questions about computers, phones, tablets, email, Microsoft products, and more.

Visit toledolibrary.org/techhelp to get started!