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The value of Spanish language computer training for library patrons
I am very fortunate that I get to do what I love every day in my job at the Dallas Public Library.
When I became a customer service representative working at the Grauwyler Park branch eight years ago, I didn’t know then how sharing my own story about learning to use the computer would help so many people acquire their own computer skills.
I was born in El Salvador, moved to Dallas as a child and grew up speaking Spanish. As a teenager, I started teaching myself how to use a computer at the Dallas West Branch library. I became interested in technology because the Internet made me see the world outside my neighborhood and imagine new possibilities for myself. I was the first in my family to graduate high school and obtain an associate’s degree.
Once I landed my job at the library and became the only Spanish-speaking staff member, I willingly translated the computer training materials. When the instructor who taught classes to Spanish-speaking patrons left, it was decided that classes for this group would cease. Because of my background, I knew how essential these classes were. I insisted that computer classes for Spanish-speaking patrons could not be discontinued and was told that if the classes were to continue it would be up to me to make it happen.
I made a decision: I would take over the classes and revamp them to reflect techniques I knew worked well with new learners. My colleagues helped me to create the syllabus and I created the content. In the beginning, I was spending a lot of time doing my own research to keep the materials current. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because the materials were so valuable to the students.
Most patrons who come to the library are hesitant to share that they don’t understand computers but also struggle in classes because they don’t speak English as well as they would like. I am able to tell them I have been in their shoes and respectfully show them I want to help.
When I started teaching the class, we had 12 students and now we have 60. I expect the students to do every task for themselves and I tell them “If I do it for you I am learning. If you do it yourself, you are learning. Are you here to learn?”
My students willingly attend twelve- week sessions and the waiting list for a spot in my classes is two years long. It’s very important for the library to provide ways to learn these vital skills in English and Spanish. I give my students as much of my time as I can and recently I have been able to give them significantly more because our library now uses the Spanish handbooks from the Oasis Connections program.
The Spanish Connections books provide step-by-step instructions that actually match the approach I had developed, freeing up precious time I used to spend updating and creating materials to teach my students! I use the handbooks for my classes and for one-on-one training sessions.
Most students need help to find a new job or upgrade their skills to keep an existing job. Many have not worked in a job requiring use of a computer and have attempted to apply for a job in person, only to be directed to a computer to fill out an online application. I start classes at the beginning, with how to use a mouse and keyboard, and build their skills to the point that they can apply for jobs online and use Word to make a resume.
Since November I have trained three patrons who have gotten jobs! I feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment in the work I do and intend to continue working my way through my waiting list.
Oasis Connections is made possible with support from AT&T.