Library Gains Grant To Address Digital Divide
The Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Library goes beyond being a place to borrow books and read periodicals.
There are plenty of both at the Mercedes Library. Beyond the written word, there’s the essential role of community service that the Mercedes library plays in sharing knowledge and expertise.
“Libraries are community hubs,’’ said Michele Munoz, the assistant director at the Garcia Memorial Library. “We’re not here just for books.’’
A recently secured state grant points to the reach the library has in Mercedes. A $70,000 grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission will be utilized to teach 100 local adults to navigate the Internet and learn how to do things like pay bills electronically and understand how Google Docs can help them create forms and documents in sharing information online.
Those may seem like skills that are universally known a few decades into the Internet era. The digital gap persists, however, in many American communities. Library Director Marisol Vidales saw that need in her community in applying for a Digital Navigation grant. Its resources are derived from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which is designed to help the United States recover from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are many people here who need the help,’’ Vidales said.
Addressing The Divide
The grant received by the Garcia Memorial Library is one of 40 made possible from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Texas State Library under the provisions of the rescue plan act.
It is meant to address what many have called the “digital divide,’’ the gap between individuals, households, and geographic areas as it relates to opportunities to access information. In Mercedes’ case and the Digital Navigation grant, the library will work with the local housing authority and school district to identify 100 adults in need of learning basic and essential Internet skills.
Millions of Americans routinely use the Internet for daily necessities, but as Vidales and Munoz explained, there are many adults in the community who lack the knowledge and resources to do the same. The adults chosen for the program will go through three months of training and have a special incentive to complete the program. They will be given a laptop to keep upon taking all the classes and learning the basic skills.
“That’s why we applied for this grant,’’ Vidales said. “We see a need in our community, and that’s why we’re here, to help people.’’
The director expects the grant to go into full effect in early 2022 and will be a welcome addition as the library works to rebound from the long effects of pandemic shutdowns and related limitations. The library has seen an over 50 percent reduction in visitors to the library since early 2020. Before COVID-19, the Mercedes library had about 75,000 visitors a year go through their doors.
All the while during the pandemic, Vidales and her staff have provided a range of services from delivering books and printouts to curbside service and having residents use the facility’s Wi-Fi, even it has meant parking by the building and using the service from their vehicles.
Vidales is looking forward to her library regaining more of its visitors, be it students doing homework or older residents coming in to read newspapers and magazines and connecting with staff. The library fully reopened to the public in spring 2021.
“People still need people,’’ she said. “It was devastating for us to not have that interaction. We tried to do what we could curbside. We’re looking forward to getting back to what we had before.’’
- Ricardo D. Cavazos