A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Libraries Lead with Digital Skills

by Shawnda Hines -- shines@alawash.org on February 1, 2019

Libraries Lead with Digital Skills issues first call for micro-funding applications as Grow with Google nationwide library tour began  February 1, 2019

ALA and Grow with Google launched a national tour of public libraries this week as part of a new partnership to expand resources and services promoting economic opportunity in cities and towns across the country. Select local libraries on the 50-state tour will host free, one-day events, where Grow with Google experts will deliver in-person workshops for job seekers, small businesses and library staff. As the tour stops in each state, PLA will open applications through Libraries Lead with Digital Skills for micro-funding in that state to provide programming, outreach, and education in their own libraries, to address the digital skills gaps of job seekers and small businesses.

The first stop on the tour was the Philadelphia Free Library. I decided to make the train trip up from ALA’s Washington Office and registered to participate about a week in advance – by which time at least two of the day’s four workshops were filled to capacity.  

Public library professionals were the primary audience for the first workshop, which opened with a video highlighting the role of libraries in teaching new skills and promoting economic opportunity in their communities. Grow with Google Head of Community Engagement Erica Swanson introduced free tools, curriculum and other resources that libraries can use to assist job seekers in conducting an online job search and learning new digital skills. The workshop also covered techniques to help small businesses learn how to reach customers online and get found on Google search and maps, even without a website of their own.

“As Grow with Google has held trainings in all kinds of venues across the country, we’ve discovered libraries to be among the most impactful and sustainable,” Swanson said.  “Libraries are such amazing partners, and we are proud to be standing next to ALA today.”

The training sessions, led by Google staff who were expert communicators as well as expert users, were literally hands-on. The participant to “Googler” ratio was about 6:1 for support using the chromebooks provided for each participant. Many of them accomplished something concrete over the course of the day, from creating or updating their business listing to get found on Google Search and Maps, to starting a shareable spreadsheet using GSuite tools to stay organized.

Folcroft (Penn.) Library Director Jennifer Ulad told me she wasn’t sure what to expect when she came to the event that morning. She told me her library didn’t offer any support for digital learning. “But after the presentations, I know the information I’ve learned will be useful,” she said. “The instructions are simple and easy to use. I feel confident that I’ll be able to use Grow with Google tools.”  

In addition to the expertise and training Grow with Google is bringing to libraries, they are also investing $1 million in micro-funding to local libraries. As the Grow with Google library tour makes its way across the country throughout the year, an application for micro-funding will become available for each state on a rolling basis through Public Library Association’s (PLA) Libraries Lead with Digital Skills website. The program is now accepting applications in Pennsylvania, and Ulad plans to apply for her library.

Many public libraries already do offer workforce development opportunities of some kind or another, so why areALA and PLA partnering with Grow with Google?

  • The partnership will spotlight stories about the ways libraries already provide innovative approaches to addressing community challenges and creating economic opportunity, especially with underserved groups. It raises the profile of libraries as key partners in local, state and even federal workforce development initiatives.
  • The free resources and trainings build the capacity of more libraries to expand workforce-related programs, specifically around small business development, innovation and entrepreneurship, in addition to more traditional job skills training and support.
  • The tour and subsequent Libraries Lead with Digital Skills micro-funding encourages partnerships between libraries and community organizations to increase workforce and innovation opportunities in local communities.  
  • The selection criteria for the micro-funding is aligned with the four key patron outcomes identified in PLA’s Project Outcome: knowledge, confidence, application and awareness. Libraries receiving micro-funding will also align their programs to one or more of PLA’s strategic goals.

The Grow with Google tour is taking place in libraries, but hosts are encouraged to work with local partners, including other nonprofit and educational professionals, to promote days of training. Staff from local service organizations such as the United Way also participated in the day of training at the Philadelphia Free Library, as did one prominent state leader: Eileen Cipriani, Deputy Director for Workforce Development at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. Cipriani spoke of the value of government programs working in tandem with service organizations and libraries, many of which help patrons use online resources of Pennsylvania Career Links, the state’s one-stop centers for career development to match job seekers with employers. “Career Links partners with libraries to bring skills and training,” she said. “It’s not a matter of competing or duplicating efforts, but a matter of amplifying our work.”

Libraries are everywhere, and as Google’s Erica Swanson is quick to point out, they serve the most underserved people. And librarians are dedicated multipliers, so the Grow with Google resources from the tour and the programs local libraries develop through Libraries Lead with Digital Skills will benefit entire communities on a daily basis for a long time to come.

To learn more about the library tour dates, visit Grow with Google’s events page. To check for micro-funding open application dates for each state as they are announced, visit PLA’s Libraries Lead with Digital Skills website. Each state’s application will remain open for four weeks. Applications are open for Pennsylvania; applications for Connecticut will open on Monday, February 11, and for Maryland on Monday, February 25.