The CyberNavigator Program at CPL
Chicago Public Library
The CyberNavigator is a specialized role within the public library which assists patrons with all types of internet and technology issues. Privately funded through the Chicago Public Library Foundation, the CyberNavigators specifically work with our customers to address the digital needs of patrons in order to engage and enhance key digital skills.
39% of Chicagoans lack the broadband connections required to fully participate in a digital workforce and school setting. This is most common among low-income families, minorities, people with disabilities, and seniors. In an increasingly competitive world, all Chicagoans have a stake in closing this divide. Achieving digital excellence means equal access to universal and meaningful participation in technology and is is vital to maintaining Chicago’s position as a leading global city. As government agencies streamline their operations and adopt technology, interactions with citizens become more automated. Whether applying for government services or simple information seeking, citizens are taking on a more active role. Businesses as well as schools have also streamlined operations into an online process where customers or students need to engage online. Today’s job search process assumes and demands from candidates considerable computer skills and familiarity with information technology even for entry levels positions. In order to apply for any position, candidates are expected to navigate a website, complete online forms, attach resumes and communicate online. The adoption of technology is making operations faster, more efficient, more accurate; yet large portions of urban populations are being left out.. A lack of resources and skills drive customers, students, patients and job searchers to the local library for free access and for instruction on navigating the web. The library needed a specialized staff member to properly assist them and assure that they too benefit from the advancement in technology, and our response is the creation of the CyberNavigator program.
Key Elements of Innovation
The Chicago Public Library created the role of CyberNavigator as someone who specializes in assisting patrons with internet and technology issues. CyberNavigators have been trained to handle both technology issues while also making sure patrons feel comfortable with the technology as they facilitate and encourage the learning of it. CyberNavigators teach computer basics as well as assist patrons with navigating the internet, resume writing, online job searches, downloadable materials. In this slowed economy, CyberNavigators have worn many hats. CyberNavigators help some patrons navigate the job search process and assist others who are starting small businesses. They help patrons be more efficient by setting up online bill payment, and alert them of possible scams. CyberNavigators coach patrons in effective information retrieval techniques about products, services and comparative pricing of durable goods.. CyberNavigators help patrons find adult or continuing education resources such as GED or ESL materials; CyberNavigator’s have also helped patrons contact their local elected officials. The Library makes an effort to hire CyberNavigators according to the language needs of the community they serve. The CyberNavigators provide diverse services in Spanish, Chinese and Polish, according to the needs of the community. Besides the background and skills in technology, what sets the CyberNavigator apart is training by the Chicago Public Library. CyberNavigators are trained in the policies and procedures of CPL and as well as how to effectively interact with a wide variety of patrons and their explicit needs. Moreover, there are opportunities for focus groups and additional professional training. The CyberNavigators are required to attend at least one full day training session during the year. Customer service and a commitment to equal access is built into the hiring and training of all CyberNavigators. It is the ability to combine the technical skills with the customer service and teaching skills that make an effective CyberNavigator.
In 2011, there were 89,903 instances of patron assistance through this program. This included 16,182 one-on-one sessions and 2,697 participants in group instruction. 331 patrons who used the program in 2011 reported that due to the direct assistance of the CyberNavigator they had successfully secured a job. 45 Chicago Public Library locations currently have a CyberNavigator. Many of these branches are in areas that are economically depressed, with significant unemployment and very often where the library is the main resource, if not the only, of free and reliable internet access for the community. The CyberNavigator program also provides an entry point to master’s candidates in Information and Library Studies programs who are planning to work in urban libraries. Currently 12 of the 45 CyberNavigators are currently enrolled in library school. The vast majority of the CyberNavigators’ job responsibilities involve direct interactions with patrons. The exposure to an urban library setting and to patrons in the “front line” provides valuable work experience and discussion material in the classroom. CyberNavigators provide quick assistance to patrons who are comfortable with technology, extended one-on-one sessions for patrons who are starting out, and class instructions for those who are more comfortable in a group setting. Professor Kate Williams published an article in Library Quarterly (Jan 2012) “Informatics Moments: Digital Literacy and Social Capital in Civil Society and People’s Everyday Lives” in which the CyberNavigators were observed. In her findings Professor Williams mentions that people experience “informatics moments” when they seek help with information technology, and it is in this moment that “the digital divide narrows.” It is the great privilege of the Chicago Public Library through the CyberNavigator program to offer assistance with these 21st century skill to our patrons.