The Internet Essentials classes can host up to 16 people, each with their own personal computer to surf and learn. Photo courtesy of Gail Borden Public Library.

By Kiersten Tomson

Just like reading and writing – using the Internet is another layer of literacy needed to prosper in America.

“There are so many people that have been left behind in technology because they were not raised as digital natives,” says Monica Dombrowski of Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Illinois.

She is the library’s Director of Digital Services and sees a constant stream of people who are lost when it comes to using a keyboard and a mouse – something many of us take for granted.

“If they don’t know how to navigate the digital world, then they are at such a disadvantage,” Dombrowski adds.  “As a librarian, that is heartbreaking to me. This is a service profession and we want to connect people to information.”

Especially with the influx of government information going online; from filing immigration forms or requesting birth certificates, everyone needs to log online at some point.

The Gail Borden Public Library offers technology classes year-round but they are able to add more sessions thanks to Internet Essentials, a grant provided by Comcast.

“Our community is very blue collar so a lot of people need enhanced skills,” says Dombrowski.  “They will have a job already but they don’t have the computer skills to advance their career and make a better living.”

The Internet Essentials program allows the library to offer an additional 8 classes, at least twice a year.  The free classes include how to use Microsoft Word or Excel, how to surf the web and plenty of those sessions are taught in Spanish.

Plus, as a bonus, these classes are open to everyone in the Chicago suburbs, not just the residents of Elgin.

“It is so important because libraries run off public funds and the situation in our state has been pretty shameful the last few years and everyone is incredibly concerned about where is the money going to come from?” asks Dombrowski.

Thanks to the support of Comcast’s Internet Essentials, Dombrowski already has her share of success stories, including one man who used to panic when his boss would ask for a monthly financial chart.

“He came to the charts and graphs class and said afterward, “’I can’t even believe how easy this is,’” recalls Dombrowski.  

When he brought the knowledge back to his office, his work was so impressive, his boss asked for his own personal Excel lesson.

“He was feeling so confident and then he got to mentor the VP of the company because of something he learned in an Internet Essentials class,” she adds.

Monica Dombrowski sees the need all the time for people to enhance their skills and protect their privacy – she once helped a couple save nearly $500 after they stumbled upon a fake government website! Photo courtesy of Gail Borden Public Library.

Monica Dombrowski sees the need all the time for people to enhance their skills and protect their privacy – she once helped a couple save nearly $500 after they stumbled upon a fake government website! Photo courtesy of Gail Borden Public Library.

And this is just the beginning.

This fall, Dombrowski plans to introduce “learning circles,” a new method to understanding the web.

“It is a collaborative learning environment where you get folks together with a facilitator, not an instructor, and you all matriculate through a free online class together,” explains Dombrowski.

They plan to add three different learning circles on building resumes, digital scrapbooking and cyber security – just a few more ways to keep the Chicago community plugged in.

“We are so grateful and it’s done so much for our community and we feel so fortunate to be a partner with Comcast – they’ve really benefitted us.”
Visit www.internetessentials.com to find a list of free classes in your corner of the world.