by Liz Bowen
How can public libraries address the increasing digital literacy needs of seniors while also providing valuable volunteer opportunities to young adults?
Through a program called Teens Teach Tech!
At the Frederick County Public Libraries, teens are teaching seniors how to search the Internet, create Facebook accounts and practice skills needed to succeed in today’s digital world.
Liz Bowen, teen librarian at the C. Burr Artz Public Library, believes a successful Teens Teach Tech program starts with a strong foundation: the teen volunteers. “Utilizing the teens’ technological strengths is what makes this program unique,” she relays. The teens help to create a warm, inviting environment for seniors who might be a little wary of large, classroom settings as they pursue the skills to Skype with grandchildren far away, set up a Facebook account, or send an email to an old friend. To ensure that seniors don’t feel lost, the library pairs them with a teen on an individual level, based on their specific needs. The training is completely hands-on and tailored to each individual’s technology questions and goals.
Ikem Itabor, teen volunteer, explains why he joined the program. “I wanted to be able to help others become comfortable with their computer skills because everyone in this age should be comfortable using technology,” says Ikem. “Volunteering for the Teens Teach Tech program provided me with the opportunity to help people understand a key tool in our world today, that affects how we communicate and interact with others.”
The program started at the downtown library and was held once a week over the course of two months. But Bowen quickly realized this program needed to expand to other locations as transportation can be a real barrier for seniors. The program expanded to the Urbana location where a senior center is also located. Another barrier can be providing suitable technology. Through the generosity of the Margaret Edwards Literacies Grant, laptop kits were created and are shared between library branches. The availability of this technology is a pivotal part of the program, allowing for the flexibility of learning environments.
The Teens Teach Tech intergenerational program goes beyond learning to use a mouse. Besides providing seniors with the ability to reach their technology goals, the program benefits both the teens and seniors socially and serves as an esteem-builder and confidence-booster for both groups, as well.
Libraries are places of transformation, of learning, and of acceptance. Volunteering and technology classes are just some of the many wonderful offerings in today’s libraries.
What will tomorrow hold? What we dream of today.
– Liz Bowen is the Teen Librarian at the C. Burr Artz Public Library in Frederick, Maryland. She can be reached by email or phone: email@example.com or (301) 600-3784. She will be presenting on the Teens Teach Tech program for the NN/LM SE/A November 16th Beyond the SEA webinar series.