King County is one of the world’s biggest technology hubs, home to tech businesses, research institutions and related enterprises. Yet many residents do not own computers or digital devices, and still more need help using technology.
That assistance is now available through the King County Library System’s Digital Navigators program.
KCLS Digital Navigators assist with finding, evaluating, creating and communicating information online–also known as digital literacy. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), a nonprofit organization which formed in 2015 to enhance digital literacy, created the Digital Navigators model.
Data from the American Community Survey (2015-2019) shows that 6.1% of King County households have no internet access. The survey also found that 6.7% of households have only a cellular data plan and no other internet subscription and 4.4% of households are without any kind of computer. KCLS libraries offer access to computers and they are in constant use.
Yet nationwide, there are twice as many requests for help using technology than for tech access, according to the NDIA. In the era of email, Zoom meetings and the daily need for connectivity, Digital Navigators can make a huge difference in patrons’ lives, helping them to meet their technology goals.
Residents can schedule a 30-minute appointment by phone or by visiting kcls.org. The service is free. Navigators also offer follow-up appointments to ensure patrons feel supported.
“Every single patron I have worked with is so grateful for the program and have recommended it to friends,” said Digital Navigator Elizabeth O. “Many want assistance with learning basic digital skills. They realize they need to become more digitally literate, but aren’t sure how to accomplish this. Some are embarrassed by their lack of skills, some are frustrated or overwhelmed, but all are determined to improve.”
Elizabeth is one of three KCLS staff members who took specialized NDIA training to become Digital Navigators. KCLS launched the program in May with funding from the King County Library System Foundation, after NDIA helped design a local model.
Navigators have no doubt of the positive impact on patrons. They have helped patrons set up email, fill out forms, get on social media and connect to the internet. They steer people to KCLS resources and databases focused on digital literacy.
Navigator Thomas S. said questions have covered a wide variety of technical topics. He helped one patron set up a new computer, another to download library materials onto different devices to share with friends. One patron increased his Microsoft Office proficiency enough to earn a certification.
“One of the values of the service is that it meets people where they are and dedicates enough one-on-one time to help them figure out where they are trying to go,” Thomas said. “It offers them a place to start when they don’t know how to begin. These are satisfying interactions because you see the results immediately.”
Navigator John T. said “the need for access and basic technology help has only increased during the (COVID-19) lockdown.”
He has helped people get an affordable internet connection, set up email accounts with Microsoft Outlook and access email from a smartphone.
“I often get wonderful feedback–of relief and gratitude–that I’ve increased their level of understanding, ease of use or access to technology that has become more and more necessary in their daily life,” John said. “Patrons are grateful that KCLS offers this valuable service.”