The following is a recap of a presentation by Megan McNaughton, Kansas City Public Library Tech Access Partnerships Coordinator, and Andrew Linn, Kansas City Public Library Tech Access Programming Coordinator given to the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion on October 6, 2023.
In 2022 the Kansas City Public Library (KCPL) launched its Digital Corps program to provide dedicated technology assistance and personalized digital literacy training to library patrons. The Digital Corps is made up of a team of AmeriCorps service members stationed across seven library branches to provide one-on-one digital navigation assistance to community members.
The Digital Corps program was conceived of by KCPL’s Director of Outreach & Community Engagement Mary Olive Joyce, an AmeriCorps alum who saw an opportunity to utilize AmeriCorps service members to support library staff in their digital inclusion work. The program was a reaction to the problem that library staff do not always have the time to sit down with a patron and spend half an hour or more to help them with their technology questions. Digital Corps members, however, can be stationed across the library’s branches to provide that one-on-one guidance to patrons whenever they need help.
This assistance can include help in building resumes, accessing public services online, applying for jobs, or using video editing software and other tools. It can also include assistance with basic skills like how to use a mouse and keyboard or how to navigate a web browser. The latter is especially important for elderly patrons as well as individuals who have recently been released from incarceration after extended sentences and who may not be familiar with digital technology.
The most significant challenge for the program has been reaching community members to communicate when and where Digital Corps members will be able to assist them. The library’s solution has been to post a weekly schedule for each member so patrons can know when to come in when they need tech help. Each Digital Corps member is assigned to a single location, allowing them to build a rapport over time with regular library patrons.
The Digital Corps program was started in 2022 and is now entering its second year of operation. The first cohort of 10 Digital Corps members exceeded the library’s expectations, collectively engaged in over 3,000 learning interactions in the first year of the program. The program is underwritten by a three-year grant from AmeriCorps through the Missouri Community Service Commission, and the library plans to continue applying for follow-on funding to extend the program. The library is also exploring how this model could be extended to incorporate volunteers and other community organizations to improve its sustainability.