Library technology grants aimed at jobs

By:  Dave Manley
Freeport Journal-Standard

Freeport is among 41 libraries and community college learning resource centers that will share in a nearly $1 million grant awarded to the Illinois State Library to enhance broadband computer access to citizens across Illinois.

“The digital divide prevents many low-income citizens from having access to important technology and educational programs that can greatly enrich their lives,” Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White said in a statement announcing the grant.

The “Eliminate the Digital Divide Program Grant” will provide equipment, training, and services for broadband-delivered education.

In Freeport, the focus will be to target people looking for jobs, according to Pat Vorwald, head of adult services at Freeport Public Library.

“If you aren’t computer literate, you are almost in another world,” Vorwald said. “Unfortunately, the way the world is going, everything is online.”

With the grant, the Freeport library will add a new computer lab (six stations) geared to adults seeking jobs and training. The library already teaches computer classes and will expand on those to offer instruction to job seekers. This instruction will include keyboarding, resume writing, and online job searching.

There will also be computer programs that offer skills assessment and training, as well as language learning.

“The whole point is to provide opportunity for people who are falling through the cracks,” Vorwald said.

The library hopes to work in conjunction with Highland Community College’s Work Keys program. Vorwald said the new programs will work with other programs already established in the area.

The new computer lab will be available through reservation only. Vorwald said organizers hope to start implementing the new program this fall.

The library also plans to revamp its website and looks to put much of its training and information databases on the site so people won’t need to come to the library to utilize the programs.

Mount Carroll Grant

The Mount Carroll Township Public Library was one of 65 libraries in the state to receive a technology grant aimed at helping out prospective small business owners. Each library will receive $4,000 worth of equipment, hardware, and software to help businesses and entrepreneurs in their communities create new economic growth opportunities, according to a statement from White.

“Our public libraries are cornerstones of our communities, and partnerships such as this between libraries, businesses, and entrepreneurs can hopefully result in new jobs and increased economic development,” White said.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) obtained a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to finance the technology packages. Though 65 libraries each getting $4,000 is only $260,000, Durbin could not be reached for comment as to where the other $40,000 will be used.

“Small businesses are key to our economic recovery,” said Durbin in a statement. “The equipment purchased as a result of the SBA grant will allow public libraries to offer information and technical assistance to small business owners in communities across the state. With these new resources and continued support from local public libraries, businesses throughout Illinois will sharpen their skill set without having to invest their own capital.”

New Equipment

The package includes a laptop computer with Microsoft Office Suite, a projector, a screen, a DVD player, a camcorder with tripod, two audio headsets with microphones, DVDs for OSHA required training in both English and Spanish, Business Plan Pro, Sales and Marketing Pro, Adobe Acrobat software, Acrobat training materials, jump drives, and books on starting and growing a business.

Participants were selected on the basis of the local unemployment rate, poverty level, proximity to a Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE or other business organization, and statewide geographic distribution, according to White.