SJ Access is a citywide initiative led by the Library that provides residents and students access to quality internet, free Wi-Fi, and digital literacy programs and opportunities. SJ Access is designed to help households with little or no internet access get connected by partnering with school districts and businesses, installing outdoor Wi-Fi access at libraries and community centers, distributing new and refurbished devices, and providing workshops and other programs to improve digital literacy. The program is innovative in its holistic approach to closing the digital divide, which up to now has been addressed in a more piecemeal way.
A key component of the City’s Education and Digital Literacy Strategy, approved by the City Council in 2018, SJ Access aims to bridge the persistent digital divide that disproportionately impacts our residents, particularly low-income communities and people of color. Access to digital connectivity — a fast and reliable internet connection — has become an essential service for residents in San José, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with our students and teachers navigating the challenges of distance learning.
A 2017 study by Stanford University and GreatNonprofits, in partnership with the City, estimated that over 95,000 San Joseans do not have high-speed Internet at home, and the 2018 American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau shows over 23,000 working-age adults – the majority of whom are Latinx – lack the connectivity and/or computer skills to apply for benefits, seek a new job, or continue their education. The Santa Clara County Office of Education May 2020 needs assessment revealed that 37,876 students rely on their school to provide them with digital devices; and over 10,000 school-age children from low-income families are struggling to maintain their academic skills through distance learning.
SJ Access goes beyond device distribution to offer trainings in multiple languages that help community members acquire the skills they need to get the most out of those devices. Library staff make it a priority to offer residents trainings in topics that matter to them. For some, this means how to support children in distance learning and communicate with teachers; for others, it is learning how to search for jobs and apply for openings online. The SJ Access curriculum also includes tips for getting access to low-cost or free IT services so that widespread digital inclusion is sustainable over the long term.
With support from SJPLF, the Library is able to conduct this work at scale through 25 branches across the city, partnering with smaller community agencies where appropriate to expand its reach. To assist with allocating resources, SJPL created an equity index screen in January 2020 to collect data on poverty, K-12 enrollment, ethnicity, English proficiency, and technology access.
Beginning in Fall 2020, SJPL has collaborated with the Santa Clara County Office of Education to distribute 12,800 hotspots to families with children in K-12 schools in San Jose who lacked sufficient connectivity at home. Additionally, the Library is currently working with the City’s IT department to establish free neighborhood-based WiFi in an equitable fashion, and 3,000 hotspots are available for checkout to SJPL members. Building upon these initial steps, the Library can provide the means for tens of thousands of families and working-age adults to become informed participants in digital life.
During the pandemic, SJ Access has provided Tech@Home kits including a laptop or iPad and mobile hotspot that can be checked out by Library members for up to 120 days. The program has also offered free digital literacy workshops in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese to help low-income households become at least minimally proficient in using a computer and navigating the web. In-language technical assistance is also available over the phone for anyone who needs extra help. Additionally, the Library’s Maker[Space]Ship mobile tech center has made weekly visits to underserved communities.
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SJ Access is made possible in part through the generosity of the following organizations and individuals.