Digital inclusion work can result in high fives and other affirming actions. For one NTEN Digital Inclusion Fellow, it’s a key motivator to continue working on technology training for her community. Image: Pexel; rawpixel.

Hot Dogs, high fives and hugs: big wins for digital inclusion programming in Atlanta

Heather Salters is an emerging leader in NTEN’s 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellowship. As a Continuing Education Services Coordinator for DeKalb County Public Library in metro Atlanta, Georgia, Heather is working in the Fellowship to increase and improve the library’s digital literacy programs. Here she shares her experience in implementing Technology Tutoring sessions, and the positive outcomes she’s seen thus far.

How does a cry for help result in hot dogs, high fives and hugs? The answer is not the punchline for a bad joke. For our staff at DeKalb County Public Library, it’s that each is an example of the excitement of patrons helped by the Library’s Technology Tutoring program.

Programs that help patrons learn and master basic technology is a staple for many public libraries. DeKalb County Public Library has offered formal group classes with patrons for several years. However, some staff don’t have the time, space, or staffing to conduct classes like this. Some library staff offer one-on-one Book-a-Librarian sessions, but they can be time-consuming and not always the most efficient way to help patrons.

How to structure digital inclusion programming

In retooling patron education programming at DeKalb, a team of librarians tried to find a better way to help patrons achieve their own learning goals around technology AND to help staff maximize their time and efforts. The team launched Technology Tutoring, a group Book-a-Librarian, similar to a learning lab, where patrons can meet their learning goals independently and receive help from library staff on their basic technology questions with hands-on assistance, recommended online learning sites, and confidence building.

The Library began scheduling Technology Tutoring sessions at six branches in late spring of 2018. Three branches host one session per month, and the other three host two monthly sessions. Sessions range from one to two hours where patrons may drop in for a minute or the entire session. Since starting, the Library has served more than 100 patrons at scheduled Technology Tutoring sessions. The wide range of patrons that attend want to know more about computers, tablets, smart phones, software, and other tech topics. Some know nothing about technology, whereas others know the basics but don’t have confidence or comfort in using it. Some have very specific questions, while others aren’t sure what they want to learn, and still others want to know it all.

The personal outcomes of DI work (hot dogs, high fives, and hugs included)

Here are three memorable stories from our tutoring sessions thus far with names changed to protect patron’s privacy:

Holly attended a Technology Tutoring session at one of our larger suburban branches in a more affluent part of the county, and she came with a list of questions. The first: how to copy and paste. To help her master this, we found a music video of her favorite song and taught her how to share it with her friends via email. After walking her through the process of selecting, copying and then pasting (even using keyboard shortcuts!) the link to the video, she practiced by sending Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to nearly every friend in her email address book. As she hummed along to the music without any help, she exclaimed, “HOT DOG! I think I got it!” We moved on to other skills, like resetting forgotten passwords, and with each skill learned, she’d excitedly share a “HOT DOG!”

Hank attended a session at a library branch located in a suburban part of the County, was reluctant about attending Technology Tutoring and technology in general, and didn’t have clear learning goals. After talking with him for a bit, I discovered his daughter gave him her old computer, and he had no idea what to do with it. I explained how I used computers every day, that computers were helpful, fun, and mostly not breakable, and that the best way to learn was to jump right in and explore. With a nervous smile, he squared himself with the computer in front of him and said, “Bring it!” We started with a quick overview of the parts of the computer and what each did, and then moved on to Mousercise to help him become more comfortable with using the mouse. At the end of the session, I shared a few websites for learning more about computers, and Hank said he would finally turn on the computer his daughter had given him to keep practicing. As he left the computer lab, he confidently turned, raised his hand, and offered a high five with thanks for getting him started.

Hazel is a “regular” at the tutoring sessions at one of our medium-sized, more urban branches. She frequently attends, as do a core group of others, which is unique to this branch. She usually has a few specific questions, but often just comes for the affirmation that she knows the answer and the camaraderie of the core group. Hazel appears to be the center of the group and has begun tentatively helping the others by sharing what she has learned in previous tutoring sessions. With the holidays and a brief break from scheduled programs at the branch coming up, Hazel brought everyone in for a hug, which showed the gratitude and bonds that have developed within the group.

Holly, Hank, and Hazel’s desire to learn and their appreciation of staff helping them to learn and grow has been the best part of this program. Sure, Technology Tutoring helps our library maximize the efforts and time of staff, but to see patrons master a task, become more confident users of technology, and to share the excitement of this is truly amazing. It definitely serves as my motivation to continue with the program and digital literacy instruction.

Heather Salters
DeKalb County Public Library
Heather Salters is the child of a librarian and grew up feeling as if the library was her second home. When deciding on a career path, she could not imagine working anywhere other than a library. With over 15 years in public libraries, she has worn many hats from shelver to branch manager. Currently, she is the Continuing Education Services Coordinator for DeKalb County Public Library in the metro Atlanta area. She is active in volunteering at community events. In her free time, she reads teen novels, rides bikes and likes to visit national parks.