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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Andrew Chanse: Libraries key to tackling the digital divide, growing Spokane economy

By Andrew Chanse Spokane Public Library

Most of us take for granted that when we need to pay a bill, apply for a job or check if our children’s school is closed for inclement weather, we can hop online and instantly get the information we need. But according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, this may not be the case for one in seven Spokane households, who do not have broadband internet at home.

Even “connected” households may face a different digital challenge: gaps in the digital skills that are critical to navigating job opportunities in an increasingly technological world. A recent study by Burning Glass and Capital One found that more than 80% of the jobs requiring a high school diploma now also require some level of digital skills or certification.

That’s where libraries come in. Three-quarters of public libraries assist customers with job applications and interviewing skills, while 90% offer basic digital skills training courses. This is certainly the case at the Spokane Public Library, where just last year we ran more than 100 digital skills classes and saw our 131 computers used more than 180,000 times.

With nearly 1 million annual visitors to Spokane’s six city libraries, we continue to serve a key role in bridging the digital divide in our community. For some, libraries are the only place to use and learn digital tools. While libraries were once primarily a space for reading printed materials, they’ve now become comprehensive spaces for professional development. We have customers visit us to upload or print resumes, learn how to use a new device or software through our weekly one-on-one tech support sessions called Appy Hour, or take a workshop on how to boost online security.

We also offer key tools to help inform entrepreneurs and business owners, including one of only a handful of Bloomberg Terminals offered in a U.S. public library (a computer system that offers real-time, cutting-edge financial data to the business community) along with our dedicated Business Librarian and LevelUp, a designated coworking space and business area at the Downtown Library.

Spokane Public Library is committed to building programs and partnerships that will help Spokane grow a technologically savvy workforce that in turn strengthens our local economy. As part of this effort, Spokane Public Library is partnering on an initiative called “Grow with Google” – the tech company’s commitment to creating economic opportunities for Americans through digital skills training to grow their skills, careers and businesses.

Next week, “Grow with Google” will come to the Spokane Public Library, offering workshops and one-on-one training for small businesses, job seekers, nonprofits, and anyone who wants to build their skills. Trainers from Google will work with Spokane Public Library staff and other area nonprofits to make the tools and resources from this training available on an ongoing basis through the “Grow with Google” partner program.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend the free coaching and training events, which will be held Wednesday at Spokane Public Library’s Downtown location at 906 W. Main Ave.

Following the Spokane “Grow with Google” event, the American Library Association will open applications through a program called “Libraries Lead with Digital Skills” for funding to libraries throughout the state to provide programming, outreach and education in their own communities. Libraries can select one of the “Grow with Google” resources to integrate into a new or existing workshop, class or event and submit the idea via a simple application.

For communities like Spokane to remain competitive, it’s imperative that our residents have access to critical digital skills and tools. The Spokane Public Library is poised to help empower and prepare the next generation of job-seekers and company-builders. We hope you’ll visit us to learn more about how we’re evolving to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world, working to close the technology accessibility gap, and investing in the future of our communities.

Andrew Chanse is executive director of the Spokane Public Library.

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