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Unlocking Opportunities with Digital Literacy

Jamie Hollier is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to libraries and museums around the United States.

Jamie Hollier is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to libraries and museums around the United States. 

Homa Naficy

Many Americans are missing out on the benefits of digital literacy; one in five Americans, roughly 62 million people, doesn’t use the Internet. Their reasons include not knowing how, lack of affordable access to computers and the Internet, and simply not seeing the value of being online. This digital divide is causing increasing inequality, including decreased access to education, jobs, health information, and social inclusion. Additionally, technology is constantly changing, so digital literacy has to be seen as lifelong learning in order to make sure that people who have traditionally been marginalized are not left behind.

My involvement with digital literacy training and support began in 2008 when I was working for the Delta Public Library District on the Western slope of Colorado. During my time in that position, I became a tutor and mentor for many wonderful people in rural Delta County who were trying to catch up or keep up with the skills they needed to get a job, stay in touch with loved ones, and further their education. In 2010, I lucked my way into a speech by Vice President Biden on innovation, and as he spoke, I kept drawing connections between innovation and lifelong learning, digital literacy, and the role of libraries. Once the Vice President left the stage, I had the amazing opportunity to talk to with him for ten or fifteen minutes about the connections to digital literacy and libraries that I had drawn from his speech.

Just over three years later I have had the opportunity to work on digital literacy projects at the state and national level. Now I find myself in the incredible position of being honored as a White House Champion of Change and being invited to the White House to talk about many of the same topics that I discussed with Vice President Biden. Since that spring afternoon, I have had the amazing privilege of continuing to create lifelong learners and helping libraries support their communities through work at the local, state, and national levels.

From 2010 to 2012, I worked at the Colorado State Library managing a project, funded by the Recovery Act, to establish 88 public computer centers across the state. Those centers provide Internet access and digital literacy training. So far that project has provided computer access to more than three million people and digital literacy education to more than thirty thousand people. Last year that project received the Project of the Year award by the Colorado Association of Libraries. Since late 2012, I have been working with the Public Library Association to create, a project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, serves as an online hub for digital literacy training for library and community organization staff.

We had many amazing stories come out of the work I have done in all these projects from immigrants getting to see distant family for the first time in years through online video to the young parents who are attending online school to get a better job and provide more for their families. One of my favorite stories was of a man who was laid off after 18 years with the same company. He knew he needed computer skills to get a new job but was embarrassed to ask his kids for help. He turned to the library where he got one-on-one digital literacy training, and shortly after he started his computer classes, he found a job.

While digital literacy is key to an engaged and inclusive society, it is also important to create user-focused technology to improve communities, which can have an incredible positive social impact. I am involved in technology development in a diversity of ways. I am a partner at Commerce Kitchen, a company that helps businesses and nonprofits add value through online software and tools. I am a board member for the Digital Public Library of America, a non-profit that is working to provide free and open access to the collections of libraries, museums, and archives across the nation. And I am an organizer for Denver Startup Week.

Technology is an amazing and powerful tool that can help us build stronger communities and provide more opportunities for all Americans. That tool, however, can also divide our communities when digital access and digital literacy are limited. With the great power of technology comes our great responsibility to assure that no one is left behind. This work is not the work of one or even a few; our responsibility to assure that no one is left behind is the work of many. I want to acknowledge that while I am being given this great honor, I am just one representative of the thousands of Americans who are hard at work helping people gain new digital skills across the nation and making sure that all of us will benefit from technology.

Jamie Hollier is a project manager, entrepreneur, consultant and a board member for the Digital Public Library of America.