In fall 2022, Community Tech Network offered its digital navigator training to 17 high school juniors and seniors who are volunteering within the San Francisco Public Library system. The students are volunteering in pairs to address the technological needs of library patrons.
So far, the initiative has been a huge success. The two newly trained digital navigators at the Main Library alone recently served 122 people in a 30-day span. With youth volunteers now trained as navigators in nine San Francisco library branches, imagine the impact that they make.
To offer this unique training, CTN customized our already-existing LibraryLIFT capacity-building solution (designed for librarians and adult library volunteers) to create a format better suited to youth.
The navigators learned how to assist folks with library resources (such as scanners, desktop computers, and printers) as well as their personal devices. Navigators were also trained to help individuals sign up for discounted home internet through the Affordable Connectivity Program and perform important tasks online (such as accessing healthcare portals or applying for jobs and social services).
According to CTN’s Alexey Morov, who led the training: “The kids were really enthusiastic. Many are already confident in their tech knowledge, but being a digital navigator is not just about answering someone’s questions or fixing their device. Navigators are meant to guide patrons to resources. For example, instead of just googling something for someone and providing them with the answer, navigators might teach the learner how to do Google searches themselves, browse the results, differentiate between government and commercial sites, and practice internet safety when following links. This paves the way for people to use technology on their own.”
CTN also taught the volunteers about adult learning methods, trauma-informed responses, and working with older adults. As Alexey says, “It’s not just about what you teach but how you do it.”
SFPL’s new digital navigators have received stellar reviews. Writes one library patron: “I was helped greatly by S.* in the lobby at a tech-help desk for about (over, actually) an hour at least. S. was articulate and clear in his descriptions and explanations (frankly, I can barely turn these devices on) as he patiently helped and/or literally walked me through a number of applications and choices about services. He didn’t act condescending at all throughout these detailed processes.”
CTN is thrilled that the library’s youth digital navigators initiative is working out so well. This is not the first time that CTN has joined forces with the San Francisco Public Library, as the two organizations have a long-standing partnership. Each year, CTN offers classes and workshops as part of the library’s annual Tech Week. In fact, SFPL’s Kate Eppler says that CTN’s classes this past year were some of the most popular! CTN has also hosted Tech Support Pop-Ups and other events at the library, and SFPL staff often refer adult learners to CTN’s Home Connect program.
Says Kate: “CTN is a key player in digital equity in San Francisco and has been a wonderful partner. When we refer people to CTN, we know that they’ll always get great help, and we know that CTN has the language capacity that our patrons need.”
*Name not published to protect the identity of a minor