We certainly love nonprofits and libraries here at TechSoup. The only thing we like better is when they get together to do extraordinary work. Ready, Set, Connect! (RSC) is a collaboration of Oakland Public Library and the nonprofit Community Technology Network (CTN) in the Bay Area.
Their Ready, Set, Connect! project provides serious technology career training to local teens who then provide digital literacy tutoring at the library. It is an innovative program that both organizations hope can be replicated across the country.
How Ready, Set, Connect! Works
Ready, Set, Connect! is a 30-week technology skills training program for young people between 16 and 24 years old.
Each year, Oakland youth apply for the free program, and 20 are carefully chosen from nearly 100 applicants.
The lucky team members (as participants are called) get intensive training from CTN and library staff. Team members also get to learn from volunteers from Silicon Valley companies.
The program teaches skills in
- Computer tutoring
- Community outreach
- Web design
- Social media
- Graphic design tools
- Resume development
- Professional networking
After all this training, members practice their new skills by assisting the Oakland Public Library with program outreach and digital literacy tutoring in computer labs at several Oakland Library branches. Team members help hundreds of library patrons.
In addition to developing new skills, team members also receive a stipend for participating. Attrition in the program is very low.
A Bridge Between Those with Skills and Those Without
Andrea Guzmán, project coordinator for Ready, Set, Connect!, says of the program:
"The digital divide has needlessly excluded many from economic, creative, intellectual, and social opportunities. Talented, driven and diverse youth from Alameda County who are digitally talented have also been needlessly excluded from a booming economy which has transformed the Bay Area. The RSC program within the library acts as a middle ground for both populations: it facilitates the education of digital skills to those who need it while supporting the professional and personal growth of the young people who have them."
The Oakland Public Library's final report on the 2015 program quotes a team member on the benefits of participating:
“[It] has definitely helped me grow professionally, from building my professional profile on LinkedIn to making connections with people in the technology field during the trainings. In addition, I have gained experience in customer service by helping patrons on the computer.”
What Each Partner Brings to the Project
Oakland Public Library brings the right environment to the project. They do the outreach for candidates and provide them with a real-world environment to help practice their new skills — something rare in a school setting.
In 2015, over a thousand patrons got tutoring in basic digital literacy. This amounted to over 800 hours of tutoring. About a third of the tutoring hours were delivered in a language other than English.
Community Technology Network (CTN) specializes in providing on-site staff to operate computer centers and teach digital literacy skills. CTN also provides technology training in senior centers and low-income housing facilities in San Francisco. CTN recruits and places Digital Literacy Corps volunteers in community partner locations like Oakland Public Library. The organization also helps the library fundraise for Ready, Set, Connect! each year.
CTN's executive director, Kami Griffiths, says: "We're stronger together. Neither Oakland Public Library nor CTN would be able to accomplish this program without the other. Starting a new program is really challenging, and sustaining it is even more difficult. It's because the library has been able to cover most staff costs and CTN has managed the stipends, relationships with corporate partners, and evaluation."
Libraries and the Digital Divide
Andrea Guzmán sums up why the library participates in Ready, Set, Connect!
"Libraries are extremely important because they represent one of the few places where members of the public can develop their knowledge and skills for any reason, for free. However, libraries can fall short of fully serving their patrons — many of whom are low income because of literacy barriers. Ready, Set, Connect! addresses the digital divide in the local communities that libraries serve, while connecting digitally talented young people to a booming tech industry, its networks, and its possibilities."
Want More Information?
Learn more about Ready, Set, Connect!
- Background information and yearly reports from the Oakland Public Library
- Yearly reports from CTN
- CTN video of the project from the perspective of different participants
- CTN profile of Andrea Guzmán, program coordinator for Ready, Set, Connect!
- Urban Libraries Council Innovations Initiative summary of the project
- For yet more information, contact RSC@ctnbayarea.org
Full disclosure: Community Technology Network started as a TechSoup program at a regional community technology meeting of the America Connects Consortium. Kami Griffiths is a former TechSoup staff member, and two TechSoup staff members, Gayle Carpentier and John McDermott, are members of CTN's board. That's how much we love digital inclusion here at TechSoup.
About the Author
Jim Lynch is TechSoup's director of GreenTech and a regular contributor to the TechSoup and TechSoup for Libraries blogs. He has been interviewed extensively over the years on a wide variety of technology topics by The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, PCWorld, and many other news outlets. Digital inclusion is one of his life-long passions.
Images: CTN and Oakland Public Library