Public libraries in Kentucky are supplying more people with computer and Internet access than ever before and, by doing so, are helping Kentuckians obtain 21st century jobs. A new report from the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives finds that some 33,000 Kentuckians received formal training on electronic resources from public librarians during fiscal year 2013-2014. In addition, over one million people took advantage of the free Wi-Fi provided by their county’s library. That statistic can be added to the nearly 5,000 in-house computers made available to Kentuckians across the state through their public libraries.
The role of the public library has shifted over the past decade, with more and more emphasis being placed on Internet accessibility, electronic resources such as e-books and databases, and knowledgeable staff to help users navigate the new digital landscape. These statistics show a high demand among Kentuckians for access to information technology at a time when the state’s public libraries faced an unsuccessful attempt by Tea Party activists to limit the way they raised tax revenues. The circuit court ruling combined with these KDLA statistics sends an unambiguous message: Kentuckians are using their public libraries more than ever and Internet technologies are becoming one of their most vital resources.
The role of librarians has shifted also. Kentucky has plenty of blue-collar workers ready to join the work force after enduring layoffs and other adverse effects of a weakened economy. Yet what they lack are the digital skills to go from applying for jobs to acquiring those jobs. That’s where Kentucky’s public librarians and support staff come in. Technology assistants at public libraries across the state are ready and able to teach their patrons to do everything from set up their first e-mail address to fine-tune a resume. By doing so, these assistants are becoming as valuable as the resources they are helping their patrons learn to use.
Teaching digital literacy in public libraries across Kentucky takes many different forms. In far western Kentucky, at McCracken County Public Library, users are invited to “build their skills” with one-on-one appointments to strengthen their resume, learn computer basics, and utilize library databases.
In far eastern Kentucky, librarians with limited means are finding ways to bridge the digital divide and bring communities online. Owsley County Public Library is ranked third in the state on a per capita basis for number of Internet computers used by the public despite widespread poverty. Owsley County’s neighbor, Leslie County Public Library, is ranked number one in the state for annual wireless sessions per capita.
The state has also seen national notoriety for projects like Code Louisville–a collaboration between Louisville Free Public Library, Metro Louisville Department of Economic Growth and Innovation, and private sector partners—that aims to teach Kentuckians the coding skills they need to secure the high tech jobs of tomorrow. Enrollment in Code Louisville doubled following President Obama’s visit to the city to praise the program as a part of his administration’s TechHire initiative.
The process of getting a job in the 21st century doesn’t have to remain an enigma. Kentuckians have the ability to decode the job market. Public libraries and librarians are helping them decipher it.