Name of Individual: Shanelle Witt
Award Name: Broadband Technology Opportunities Program NYC Connected Communities
Administered By: NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (in collaboration with Brooklyn Public Library)
My name is Shanelle Witt, a sophomore at the New York City College of Technology and Library Technology Specialist at the Macon Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). The library has always been a part of my life. I looked forward to going to the library after school when I was a child, and at 14 years old, I volunteered at my local branch as a computer coach. At such a young age, it was a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to technology, and it gave me greater access to a world that I love and knew I could grow in. I soon found other volunteer opportunities at the library, where I could receive extensive computer training and serve as an assistant in computer classes. I joined the volunteer program as the first member of a group known as the T4s – Today’s Teens, Tomorrow’s Techies – which is still in existence today and may even be a part of Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP)!
Based on my track record with the T4 program, Director Keiron George recommended me for a part-time Computer Aide position at the Bedford branch library. I was hired and remained there for almost four years. During my time at Bedford, I sought a full-time opportunity within Brooklyn Public Library. I enjoyed working at Bedford, but I was also paying for my education and needed a higher income. I checked for new open positions daily. Due to American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, the Library Technology Specialist position was created for the new BTOP initiative.
When I saw the posting, I realized it was a perfect fit for my skills and interests. I love technology, and I love being able to share knowledge. This job is a combination of both. I applied for the ARRA-funded position, and I was thrilled to get the phone call saying I was hired. To live in New York City and be a part of such a meaningful technology grant appealed to me on all levels. My BTOP job is now helping me to pay for school. It is also affording me the chance to further my education in technology while I can keep helping others with their technology aspirations. I practically grew up in my neighborhood library. To work in this place and serve others through technology is rewarding to me everyday. What a great career opportunity. And working on an ARRA grant through BPL has given me something that would not have been available to me otherwise – a full-time job with benefits!
As a Library Technology Specialist, part of my role is to loan ARRA-funded laptops to the public for in-house use and to conduct ARRA-funded computer classes promoting digital literacy. Digital literacy can mean something different to different individuals. I want to ensure people from all walks of life have the opportunity to see technology from a broad perspective, as I do. New York City is a great place to be, and it’s even better when you have the key to unlock so many wonderful opportunities. Our partnership with the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications as well as the other agencies in the BTOP program is helping to make that clearer. Technology is not shrinking, it is expanding and it is for us all.
It is also part of my responsibility to assist the public with any trouble they may experience while using the laptops. When patrons encounter certain problems or have no computer knowledge, I may recommend that they take my computer classes to learn more. The library is a place where people feel comfortable, and I try to make their classroom experience the same. Once the students are comfortable, they are able to trust me as an instructor and are less afraid to ask questions or try something new. Sometimes, if a student has specific computer questions unrelated to the subject of the class, they will schedule an appointment with me to help them one-on-one. In doing this, I am able to stay on track with the class and still help everyone.
The classes are all for beginners and require no previous skill or familiarity with computers. Local people are eager to soak up the knowledge because many of them do not know how to use a computer or have questions that no one else would or could answer for them. As the attendees span ages from 10-70 years old, I have learned so much by seeing the different ways that people engage. There is, for instance, 10-year-old Nazmul who just popped into the class because his brother told him about it after seeing the BTOP laptop, or middle-aged student Ricky who is brushing up on his tech skills, or one of our great great grandmothers Deborah who wants to use computers to better communicate herself, gain access to services she may require, and continuously communicate with her family. They all demonstrate to me the integral part that broadband serves in our neighborhoods. With ARRA funding, I am able to help all of them. Without ARRA funding, none of this could occur. We are reaching a community that deserves access to education, we are teaching ourselves and others, and we are creating jobs by working together to create long-term, sustainable opportunities. I cannot be more honored to be part of this program.
Since the laptops have arrived at the library, the patrons have been very receptive and given me lots of positive feedback. One of the benefits of being at the laptop station is being able to see the patrons every day, interacting with them and building relationships. People like coming back to familiar, friendly faces. My time here has not only given me the opportunity to teach others but also to learn from them as well. I like having the ability to help people, even in the smallest ways, and I feel I do that through this job. Our classes are currently overflowing, and we haven’t even started marketing it yet! We have the amazing challenge of routing people to other libraries to continue to expose them to all technology has to offer.
BTOP has created and will leave a lasting imprint for the patrons of BPL. I’d like to see this legacy become institutionalized. In my view, BTOP is a positive four letter word – equivalent to hope!