Summit Workgroup D: Building Tech & Librarian Support Capacity

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  8.  » Summit Workgroup D: Building Tech & Librarian Support Capacity

Building Capacity for Tech and Librarian Support for LMI Learners

What’s the problem?

Since 1977, banks have spent over $3 trillion on Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) compliance, through investments in affordable housing, financial literacy education, financial inclusion, and economic inclusion. Banks meet their CRA obligation through a blend of employee volunteerism, loans, equity investments and grants.  Recently, it’s been determined that banks can also receive CRA credit for supporting such digital equity-related efforts as developing broadband infrastructure.

It’s widely understood that the digital divide is an increasingly significant barrier to economic and educational opportunity for low- and moderate-income (LMI) learners of all ages. Without digital access and skill, it’s becoming impossible to find out about and apply for living wage jobs.  Somewhat less recognized is that the lack of digital access and skill also impedes efforts to prepare for living wage jobs. In what FCC commissioner has termed the “homework gap”, LMI learners face growing difficulty in participating in educational and training programs, at the K-12, postsecondary and adult education levels: more than 70% of US teachers assign homework that needs to be done online; 90% of high school students do web-based homework at least a few times a month; and almost half say they receive such assignments daily. Yet 15% of US households with school-age children lack high speed Internet at home. Fully one-third of these households earning below $30,000 per year face this obstacle.

Clearly, much more attention is needed to make affordable broadband access available to all LMI households. Equally, LMI families need access to affordable devices. As the National Collaborative for Digital Equity’s (NCDE) recent precedent-setting partnership has demonstrated, banks can receive CRA credit for financing the refurbishment of their computers, for donation to LMI learners. This has the potential to generate the refurbishment of tens to hundreds of thousands of computers each year.  In NCDE’s pilot effort with Sage Sustainable Electronics (a national refurbisher), bank CRA funds are enabling complete erasure of a refreshed computer’s content, installation of Windows 10, a free full subscription to Office 365, and bundling with a one-year warranty, and free and deeply discounted educational resources for financial literacy and economic inclusion.

It’s also becoming widely understood that LMI learners also need free, personalized tech support so they can use these devices and the Internet successfully. Groups such as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, TECH CORPS, GenYes, HUD ConnectHome USA and Cyber-Seniors have developed and scaled cost-effective strategies for bringing sustained free tech support to LMI learners. Providers of deeply discounted broadband for LMI households – most notable among them, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program – often bundle outreach about their discounted broadband program with local grants providing tech support and training. NCDE, Capital One and GenYes pioneered a program using CRA funding to create eight GenYes chapters in Maryland and Virginia, in which diverse youths in grades 3-12 are learning how to provide tech support for their non-tech-savvy teachers relatives and neighbors.

However, what is rarely addressed, with one major exception, is the crucial need LMI learners of all ages also have for librarian support to engage in a safe and meaningful way with content. The American Library Association has for 25 years encouraged its membership to pioneer free Internet access, tech support and librarian assistance for LMI learners. As Common Sense Media emphasizes, cyberbullying, media illiteracy, and device addiction are growing problems, for which the best defense is access to librarian support to navigate safely and effectively in the online world.

Several questions warrant attention:

How might we best encourage more banks to utilize CRA resources to provide badly needed financial support for local tech support programs.? HUD’s stellar ConnectHome USA initiative, for instance, engages mostly Americorps-funded volunteers in providing personalized tech support for low-income housing residents, but their capacity to do so sustainably is constantly stressed by chronic lack of funding, a challenge for which modest CRA funding could provide the perfect remedy.

Equally, NCDE and the New England School Library Association are donating their time to mobilize a multi-state initiative engaging faculty in school librarian preparation programs to teach future librarians to provide free chat-based support for LMI learners, for cybersafety, digital literacy and effective searching skills. How might modest funding be generated to administer, formatively evaluate, validate and scale this cost-effective strategy?  There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of mostly local tech and librarian support programs offering free assistance: how might we both generate as well as effectively publicize a national map making it much easier for LMI families to locate providers nearest them?  How can we best assist local tech and librarian support providers to secure modest stable funding from CRA and other sources?  

How might the National Collaborative for Digital Equity and other summit participants best assist efforts to launch such initiatives?

By the end of Day One workgroup discussion, please be prepared to report out about your thoughts regarding the following question:

What are aspects of this challenge that most need addressing?

By the end of Day Two workgroup discussion, please be prepared to report out about your thoughts regarding the following questions: 

  1. What strategies does your workgroup recommend be undertaken?


  1. What commitments might workgroup members have made to help implement proposed next steps?


  1. What supports and commitments might you need from NCDE and other stakeholders at the summit to carry out these strategies?