Tech mobiles are popping up in big cities as well as small, narrowing the digital divide for underserved communities. These tech mobiles offer a variety of resources including classes, Wi-Fi access, computers for the homeless to apply for jobs, opportunities for youth to mess around with technology, as well the ability for patrons to borrow Wi-Fi hotspots to take home. As the advent of technology becomes more and more a regular part of our lives and a requirement for schools, it’s imperative to provide the same opportunities for everyone in order to be able to become modern twenty-first century learners and professionals.
Schools, churches, individuals like Ms. Estella and her Brilliant Bus, as well as public libraries are on the forefront of introducing these services to communities, but it’s really public libraries that can take advantage of this as an opportunity to better their community and do something special. This is a chance to partner with other groups and corporations, such as Best Buy or local organizations, that can bring in money, supplies, and mentors for patrons to really help add to the tech lab/mobile lab experience. And public libraries are in the unique position to receive subsidies for providing this service. The article “Can ed-tech inequality be solved by roving buses with Wi-Fi and loads of equipment?” discusses this in context with comparing programs that schools are now starting to provide as well as outside groups like the City of Chicago’s Destination: Chicago Mobile Van which is run through the Digital Youth Network. “Federal e-rate subsidies for educational Internet can’t be used for buses or other off-campus applications. Oddly enough, bookmobiles are eligible for e-rate, because they’re considered a mini branch of the library.”
This seems like a great time for public libraries to bust out the old bookmobiles and revamp them for the modern digital age. Although this service may not be green in the long run and can be very expensive, it’s a hole for public libraries to fill before hopefully access to the Internet becomes more of a utility like water or gas for all Americans. Examples of public libraries using mobile labs to their benefit include the San Francisco Public Library’s Techmobile that offers classes ranging from Basic Computer Skills, to Intro to 3D Printing and LEGO Robotics. Kokomo, Indiana has a bookmobile that beams out free Internet in low-income neighborhoods, and in Providence, Rhode Island, their bookmobile loans out 4G mobile hotspots. This is so important when we have what the ed-tech inequality article discusses as “technology deserts” in lower income neighborhoods that often hold minority or immigrant residents. And it’s a great way to connect with and get those patrons to come to the actual library once they understand the types of assets that the public space can provide them. Beyond that, it’s an opportunity for public libraries to advertise just how important and pertinent they still are in these modern times.
Berdik, Chris. “Can Ed-tech Inequality Be Solved By Roving Buses With Wi-Fi and Loads of Equipment?” The Hechinger Report. Last modified October 21, 2015.