Benchmark: Chicago Public Library Cyber Navigator Program

Establish a smart community benchmark and toolkit for broadband access and use” is Initiative Four of the City of Chicago Tech Plan. The Connect Chicago program is an essential component of that initiative. As part of this, we’re highlighting programs that are quintessential programs that we consider crucial to having a connected city for all.

One of the first comprehensive technology training programs in the city, the CyberNavigators program at Chicago Public Libraries has led the way in bridging the digital divide in Chicago.

Bessie Coleman

About the CyberNavigator Program

CyberNavigators are computer tutors that work in 44 libraries across Chicago, where they served almost 90,000 library patrons in 2011. Through technology training and mentoring, one-on-one assistance and public classes, CyberNavigators work with library patrons to teach computer basics, resume writing, word processing, internet searching and more.

Tiffany, the cybernavigator for the Edgewater branch, talks about her experiences.

Tiffany, the cybernavigator for the Edgewater branch, talks about her experiences helping patrons use the internet.

The CyberNavigators program has staff deployed at library branches across the city who are dedicated to helping patrons with technology issues. The role itself isn’t necessarily a technical role, but rather the role is about guiding patrons to the information they’re looking for.  The CyberNavigators help patrons  with computer basics, email, online research methods, and more.  

Oftentimes, people who come to the library have a specific task in mind such as applying for a job, social services, or evaluating information.  As more and more social services move online, those without digital skills can find themselves unable to obtain social services. The CyberNavigator programs helps bridge this gap and provides a way for residents to access the services they need regardless of their digital literacy. 

You can get a sense of the work that the CyberNavigators do through this comic put together by Damian DuffyJohn Jennings, Kate Williams, and Dann Tincher.

The Chicago Public Library also offers a variety of classes on digital literacy.

Many of the CyberNavigators are bilingual speaking either Spanish or Chinese. For the cybernavigators, it’s important to be able not only speak the language, but to be culturally fluent as well in order to help patrons. 

Funding and Inception

First started in 1999, the CyberNavigators program is funded by grants through the Chicago Public Library Foundation. Funding partners include: Bank of America, Wal-Mart, McCormick Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, Comer Foundation, Chicago Blackhawks and other individual donors.

The Cyber Navigator Program as part of the larger Chicago Technology Plan

As part of the Chicago Technology Plan, Initiative 11 states:

Provide public computer access
and support.

The City, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Community Colleges, Chicago Public Library, and other organizations will continue to run public computer labs to increase residents’ access to the Internet and their ability to use the
Internet effectively.

The work of the CyberNavigator program is called out specifically as a way to achieve this objective.

Why it’s a benchmark

The Chicago Technology Plan defines a benchmark as:

…the prototype of a “smart community,” against which all communities can create an action plan to improve the adoption and use of broadband technology. It will also help communities employ technology strategically across business development and growth, workforce and skill development, education, healthcare, public safety, civic engagement, and social connectedness.

One benchmark of a fully connected community is digital skills training for all. The Chicago Public Library provides digital skills training for free across the city through the CyberNavigators Program.

In a city like Chicago, with residents who come from all corners of the world, training programs in the context of English as a Second Language (ESL) is another benchmark that the CyberNavigator program reaches by ensuring that many of it’s Cyber Navigators are bilingual.

Results by the numbers:

According to the Chicago Public Library Foundation

  • 89,903 patrons were served by CyberNavigators in 2011.
  • Patrons reported 331 jobs found with assistance from CyberNavigators in 2011.
  • 44 libraries had a CyberNavigator in 2011.

Further Reading:

You can find the schedule for the CyberNavigator’s program on the Chicago Public Library website. 

Study on the CyberNavigator program by Professor Kate Williams.

WBEZ story on the CyberNavigator program 

The CyberNavigator Program at Chicago Public LibraryUrban Libraries Council 

1 Response

  1. Marla Garris February 25, 2014 / 8:49 am

    Smart Chicago should have a discussion with
    Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tell her I said for you to call. Wonderful work!

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