Library's cyber-navigators help digitally illiterate patrons access social services
But lately he’s noticed a trend when at social service offices—they are short staffed and send him online for information or to fill out a form. It’s been a challenge for Brown, who describes himself as “computer illiterate.”
“I use [the cyber navigators] about once a week to find what’s available to senior citizens such as food pantry, clothing or housing assistance,” says Brown.There are 45 part-time cyber navigators at different Chicago Public Libraries. The program is unique to Chicago, though, according the American Library Association, most libraries have noticed an increased number of request to help access social services online.
Eventually they were able to fill out the form and the man when home for his brother’s funeral.
According the American Library Association, over half of libraries say helping patrons’ access government information is one of the most critical services they provide. But not everyone gets the help they need.
Aaron Smith is with Pew Internet and American Life project. He says one in five Americans doesn’t go online at all. They include people who access many government services. “They tend to be older, they tend to have low levels of income, low levels of education, people with a chronic health condition or some sort of disability, and low language proficiency,” says Smith.
So far, most essential government forms are still available in hard copy. But some are only available by mail order, and are processed much quicker online.
As for Mr. Charlie Brown, he says will visit the cyber-navigators next week, “Without these services, I’d be on the verge of homelessness. So I’d be sleeping under the bridge with the rest of the guys.”