Libraries Without Borders US and Blandin working to bring the library to patrons in rural MN

The last year of pandemic has shone a light on the need for better access to technology at the very local level. By access, I’m talking about that three-legged stool: broadband, device and the skills to use both. Those of us who have them take it for granted; those who don’t are in danger of falling farther behind especially as work, school and healthcare move online. This move didn’t start with the pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated it and exacerbated the divide between those to have and those who don’t.

The library has always helped level the playing fields for the have-nots. Libraries Without Borders US (LWB US) and Blandin Foundation are working on some ways to extend the reach of the library beyond the ways – to meet people where they are literally and in terms of where they are with their needs. (Do they need broadband, a device or training.) As LWB US reports on a project in Nobles County… 

So how can rural communities be connected to critical resources, considering obstacles that span from a lack of connectivity to finding a way to get to a local library? Our answer: by bringing library resources directly to these communities. LWB US, the Blandin Foundation, and local partners have teamed up to design and implement digital literacy labs and pop-up libraries, equipped with digital resources and programming ranging from monthly story time and ESL classes to workforce training and digital literacy workshops. 

Both organizations focus on creating solutions with the local organization, not for, and that’s the special sauce here. LWB US and Blandin have expertise and experience but the people on the ground know the needs and trusted places. LWB US spoke to participants working to develop the digital pop-ups. 

Andrea Duarte-Alonso, Lead for America Hometown Fellow at the Southwest Initiative Foundation commented…

The [Southwest Initiative Foundation’s] interest came from wanting a creative and innovative idea that would support community members through resources that are often not accessible to them. This support also encourages closing the technological and educational gap for families. It provides literacy to families without transportation or other needed amenities to access books and technology. 

 Katherine Craun, board member and past president of the Nobles County Library and alum of the Blandin Leadership program noted… 

Access, Access Access.  All citizens need to be connected and involved in community activities. First individuals and families need the hardware and software to connect.  Second, they need a location to connect.  Pop-ups would be a great way to meet needs of isolated housing units, small towns/villages, and rural farms. 

The project is shifting from design to deployment. I look forward to finding out how, where and when the digital labs pop up and about the difference they are able to make to the patrons! (For more details and more on participant interviews, please check out the original article from LWB US.)

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