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Training Wheels: Mobile Computer Lab
Lexington Public Library
In difficult economic times, people depend even more on their public libraries. During the previous year, the Lexington Public Library saw a 25% increase in computer usage. As the area’s unemployment rate spiked, the library began offering a “Job Lab” in its computer classes. This program offered resume assistance and help with online job searching. Demand for these classes was overwhelming. Staff realized that if demand was so great in the library, the need for these services outside the library’s walls must be tremendous as well. Many people in underserved areas of the community don’t have a way to access the library, let alone its computer classes.
The solution was for the library’s Outreach Services Department to offer classes via a mobile computer lab. These classes would be targeted at those underserved and most vulnerable populations, many of whom were finding themselves in the job market for the first time in years. The Lexington Public Library Foundation secured an $82,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. These funds were used to purchase equipment for two computer labs, including 22 laptops, mobile wireless carts, mobile hotspot units, monthly broadband access, and other various hardware components. The grant funds also paid the salary of a full-time mobile lab instructor for approximately 18 months.
Over the past year, the mobile lab has been all over the community: city parks, community rooms, gymnasiums, nursing homes, homeless shelters, schools, and a variety of other places. Several types of programs have been offered: basic computer skills, basic internet searching, basic windows, word processing, resume assistance, and online job searching. Community members have learned everything from how to use a mouse to how to create an interactive blog. Thus far, over 1,700 persons of all ages have utilized the Mobile Lab services (in 16 months). There have been senior citizens, handicapped individuals, unemployed persons, and people with limited finances, transportation, or other barriers. The mobile lab instructor not only offers “one time” basic level classes, but teaches multi-week, more intensive classes as well. The library has partnered with other organizations to make classes available in Spanish on several occasions. One of the series classes was in conjunction with Goodwill Industries and was a part of their “Second Chance at Success” program, which targeted return-to work felons. As a result of this class, the Lexington Public Library was named “Partner of the Year” by Goodwill Industries of Kentucky.