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Free Library of Community: Hot Spots Initiative

Free Library of Philadelphia
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Innovation Leader: Hedra Packman, Director of Library Services, packmanh@freelibrary.org

Problem Statement

In 2011, no one can fully engage in civic life, join and compete in the workforce and excel in school without internet access. But 41% of Philadelphia residents do not have Internet at home; and in some neighborhoods, this percentage is even greater. Not coincidentally, communities with lower access are higher than the city average in unemployment and poverty, and their educational and literacy averages are lower. While the Free Library of Philadelphia boasts 53 neighborhood branches, many of the city’s 1.5 million residents cannot or do not access library services. A novel model of library services, fortified by strong community partnerships, is urgently needed.

Innovation

The Hot Spots initiative is a dynamic service model that meets vulnerable neighborhoods on their own ground. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Project grant, the Hot Spots assist families, job seekers, new Americans and small businesses owners connect to the Internet and library resources. The Library’s partnership with community organizations to install technology labs at welcoming neighborhood sites is a deep and sustainable way to help bridge the digital divide. Grant-funding permits staff to be retained for computer learning experiences, tailored to neighborhood needs. The selected sites must be open to the public and provide a secure space; and ultimately, these Hot Spots will cultivate local capacity to assist technology users. Providing disadvantaged Philadelphians with free training and information relevant to their own needs is the primary goal of this intriguing collaborative project.

Progress

This initiative seeks to increase the number of people in Philadelphia regularly using computers, the Internet, and library resources to accomplish their life goals. Four Hot Spots have already premiered and will evolve to reflect the needs of each neighborhood. Additionally, a TechMobile—a 21st century take on the wildly successful BookMobile— will be outfitted to provide a computer lab experience—on wheels! Visitors will be able to write a resume on the road and search for jobs in an unusual location, but with the same motivating mission of self-determination and personal transformation. The library is proud to support their pioneering journeys.