The past few weeks have ushered in unprecedented challenges and unsettling uncertainty for our society. With the outbreak of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, many businesses, schools, and anchor institutions have been forced to close their doors. In hopes of preventing the spread of this virus, major cities like San Francisco and New York ordered residents to “shelter-in-place,” a dramatic, yet necessary action that was soon followed by other cities across the country. Under these restrictions, many people have been forced to move their day-to-day activities—everything from work to worship, school to the gym—online.
But what about those with limited or no access to fast, reliable internet service? According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an estimated 21.3 million people across the United States lacked access to broadband internet in 2019. In rural areas, this divide is even more extreme, with only two-thirds of residents reporting that they have a broadband connection at home. The spread of this virus has highlighted the weak, or in some cases nonexistent, digital infrastructure of these communities. It has revealed the stark and ever-widening digital divide in our country.
From our founding, Libraries Without Borders has worked to provide all people, regardless of their circumstances, with opportunities to pursue knowledge, art, culture, education, and life-saving information. At the heart of these efforts is a commitment to digital equity, which is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services or information.
Given the nature of our work, the current public health crisis has forced us to change many of our practices and programming in order to protect the health of the communities we serve, as well as that of our team. Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them, we have doubled down on our commitment to providing access to information and education, especially to those who need it most. With your support, we will be able to provide rapid response services to children, families, and other vulnerable individuals impacted by the coronavirus. For children who are not in school, this means providing them with laptops and Internet access that will allow them to participate in distance learning or other educational activities. For families, this means signing up for free or low-cost Internet services, or connecting them to local nonprofits equipped to support parents facing extreme hardship because of the pandemic.
To support our rapid response to the coronavirus, please visit our donation page.
For updates on our programs since December 2019, please read on…
The Baltimore Wash and Learn Initiative
In February 2020, LWB organized our first-ever tax intake program, which took place at our Baltimore WALI sites. Through this program, we have helped low-income laundromat patrons complete their taxes — completely free of charge! To date, we have helped 17 clients through this program, which was made possible with support from the Cash Campaign of Maryland.
Earlier this year, our partners at the Enoch Pratt Free Library launched an English Class for Spanish speakers at one of our Baltimore WALI laundromats. The class brought in 12 participants on its very first day!
Following the success of our first half year, the Baltimore City Department of Planning awarded Baltimore WALI a grant to support census outreach efforts. With this support, we will host a community event that brings the census directly to Baltimore residents at our WALI sites.
The San Antonio Wash and Learn Initiative
According to the Department of Community Initiatives, the illiteracy rate in San Antonio is 25% — that’s 373,250 people who are unable to read and write. In response to this literacy crisis, LWB is fully committed to continuing and growing our San Antonio WALI program. Over the past four months, we have partnered with local organizations to provide more than 100 hours of programming at our WALI laundromat sites. Program activities ranged from story time sessions to voter registration drives, and participants included everyone from toddlers to senior citizens. In total, we have served more than 250 people! Stay tuned for our expansion to two new laundromat sites!
The Oakland Wash and Learn Initiative
After a whirlwind first year, Family Laundry is gearing up to expand programming for Fruitvale residents. Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, the laundromat has decided to host a “Free Laundry Day” entirely for senior citizens in the community on March 23rd. If you’d like to support this event, or a future “Free Laundry Day,” please contact Adam Echelman: firstname.lastname@example.org