When we think of technology, children and families, access has been what has been most prevalent at issue for many libraries, especially in the last few years. We have prioritized equity, diversity and inclusion in our guiding principle statements. We’re ensuring that we are serving the most underserved communities: Reviewing and realigning our service areas to focus on the schools, and day cares which have the greatest need populations – that they are the first to receive laptops, wifi access, and technology assistance. All these things are a necessary and wonderful enhancement for families and for closing the digital divide. I would say though, that we can go even deeper in assisting families. This is what I discovered in the past pandemic year as I worked with families from different countries.
Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to pilot virtual live story telling programs in the languages of French, Swahili, and Somali with the goal of eventually making them a permanent part of our story telling offerings. We partnered with local organizations who offer other services to these populations, and whose staff were interested in the pilot. On our end at Multnomah County Library (MCL), there was the process of galvanizing hosts, and Technical Moderators. But what was a little different and working outside of the usual box was the training of our Story Tellers; walking them through our process. Normally vendors come with their set of skills, props, books, or whatever it is they will use and are prepared to perform. However, our partners were used to sharing their stories with families in the confines of their site locations. In order to reach larger populations of people who may not frequent libraries as often due to language barriers, and to increase literacy, we were happy to provide books and some extra training on presenting virtual Story Telling. Within the midst of preparation to performance, there were great conversations had between myself and the Presenters. I learned differences in the Swahili dialects, and some of the intricacies of their cultures for example. But also, while speaking with the Somali Director of their organization, I learned that due to war, a generation of Somali adults had not had the opportunity to learn to read or write in their own language, so in some cases the technology help needs to go a little deeper than providing a laptop and wifi access even though this is sufficient for many.
I began to think about how we could get adults the assistance they needed to access the story telling programs to watch with their children. There was the need for translation to create program descriptions and flyers. But handing out or posting a flyer, or giving a website and pointing them to a link was not going to suffice for everyone. Then I thought about how youth and Teens often translate for their parents in almost all aspects of their daily lives – at the DMV, Citizenship, and/or other government offices. So, I thought I would apply the same concept to our storytelling’s. We started with a small group of teens, incentivizing them with a gift card.
They would help their families to log on to our website, and sign into the programs. This seemed to work out pretty well; I was very happy about the outcome. We all benefited. There was the intergenerational benefit as well: Parents had the help of their teens, who in turn ensured that their little ones viewed the story telling’s. Many times, whole families including friends would also join. Throughout this process we learned that there were indeed some extra steps we could take to alleviate technology barriers, increase visitation to our library, and increase literacy and services to new populations.
By Carla Y. Davis, Youth Librarian
Multnomah County Library, Portland Oregon