Booth receives $50K grant for programs


Theo Edwards, Opinions Editor

Booth Library received a grant in August for $50,000 from the Office of Broadband Regional Engagement for Adoption + Digital Equity (READY) program in order to develop digital literacy programs for surrounding communities.

During the spring semester of 2021, at some of Eastern’s staff at Booth Library Zach Newell as Dean of Library Services, Beth Heldebrandt as Public Relations Director, Stacey L. Knight-Davis as Head of Circulation Services, and Nate Carlson as Digital Literacy Coordinator together applied to receive money from the statewide grant program Broadband READY.

It was mostly designed to provide opportunities for increased infrastructure throughout Illinois to provide access to rural communities and in some of the regions that may be funding the distribution of laptops to undeserved communities. 

“But the direction we sort of took it with or they sort of took it with was a direction of education. It’s no good to provide access to the Internet, access to these technologies if people aren’t equipped to use them, aren’t equipped to use them in productive or responsible or effective ways,” Carlson said.

Digital literacy is the ability to have safe, informed, and active participation in digital technologies. This is a core part of the curriculum taught in the program along with enabling students and patrons to be active, safe, and informed participants. The course is also meant to inform participants in digital media and enable them to use digital technology to advocate for themselves and their community.

It is also important that users understand digital footprints, feeling safe and secure online, informational literacy, and fake news literacy, giving people the skills to determine their own bias and determine the bias of the media they consume.

To start the process, money went towards instructing around 24 total educators who were trained from various partners in a workshop offered at Booth Library over the summer. The rest of the money went to those grant partners to provide technology and pay for the instructors of workshops.

So far three workshops are being offered at Effingham Library, as well as workshops at the Mattoon Public Library, and Charleston Carnegie Library. The program will also be offered to University Foundation instructors for the fall semester for Eastern freshmen and Lakeland College is a grant partner as well.

Carlson shared a story he had heard from one of the Lakeland College GED instructors in which he said, “They had a woman come in their GED class and she said ‘I’ve been working in construction for 45 years. I don’t have my job anymore.’ She didn’t know how to use a computer, she didn’t know how to use Microsoft word, use the Internet and this woman who had a steady paycheck for so long just trying to get by and survive in this very tumultuous economy lacked the skills to even take the GED course because the GED course was online.”

He finished off with, “And that for me paints the picture for me that people are getting left behind because a lack of digital literacy.”

For adults adjusting to a digital changing world, colleges can provide the resources to help. Newell, when interviewed, mentioned efforts at Eastern to help students keep up with changing technology.

The pandemic allowed government emergency education relief funds to purchase 120 laptops, along with webcams, digital cameras, and other equipment to address the digital equity gap to continue with classes online going into the fall semester and be distributed through the library.

$41,000 was also used previously to convert an instructional studio in Thomas Hall to give instructions on how to install and use software on laptops after checking out technology from hired on graduate assistants there.

“We work in tandem. The whole library itself is student-minded and student-oriented. Between circulation helping with interlibrary loan requests like journals that we don’t have, library technology helping students in the fishbowl, and technology help checking out dongles in the CSI space that can help with technology with the actual instruction of the software and hardware,” said Newell.

Theo Edwards can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]