As part of their reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods and PlanPhilly this summer, Tasia N. Morgan, Angela M. Mayo, and Samantha Ortiz are bringing us dispatches from East and West Poplar. This week they checked in on the Free Library branch on Girard Avenue to see how this community anchor is helping neighbors bridge the digital divide.
Limited Internet access does not stop East and West Poplar residents from getting online. The 255 daily visitors of the Ramonita G. de Rodriguez Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia are primarily there to use the computer services.
In a 2012 article by Technically Philly's Brian James Kirk* revealed that 55 percent of Philadelphia residents lack access to the Internet in their homes.
Librarian Lisa Chianese-Lopez said, “I know a lot of people in the city do not have a computer or Internet, or they’re having problems with their Internet or printer. There is a great digital divide.”
While this library remains filled with books, it has transformed into a facility where people utilize the Internet for job hunting, social networking, and keeping up with the latest news.
“They’re open Monday through Friday. I come here at least a minimum of three days a week,” visitor Ivon Austin said. “I’m in a halfway house and you know, there’s not much Internet access. So I just basically come here to stay up on current events.”
Austin said he also uses the library’s computers to access his social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook.
According to Facebook, it has generated 1 billion monthly active users as of March 2013. The high-volume Facebook activity is reflected in the Ramonita G. de Rodriguez Library.
“My people live on Facebook. I swear everybody is on Facebook,” Chianese-Lopez said. “And primarily a lot of the guys who come in here, that’s what I’m helping them do- set up their Facebook account. I swear every man, woman and child is on Facebook.”
Chianese-Lopez once assisted a library visitor in creating a Facebook account to reconnect with a family member. “I actually helped somebody get a Facebook account and he got reunited with his son who he hadn’t seen for years,” Chianese-Lopez said. “So people may say, ‘Oh, they’re just on Facebook.’ But you never know what they’re doing on Facebook.”
Besides social media, creating résumés and job hunting has played a major role in the Internet usage at this library as well. On freelibrary.org, anyone can access the résumé template which guides users on how to develop a successful résumé. The librarian will also work one-on-one with those preparing to apply for jobs.
“We are full-service. You can call us. You can e-mail us. You can text us. We’re here for you,” Chianese-Lopez said.
For more information on the Ramonita G. de Rodriguez Library Branch, visit freelibrary.org or text 66746.
This summer Tasia N. Morgan, Angela M. Mayo and Samantha Ortiz will bring Eyes on the Street and PlanPhilly dispatches from East and West Poparl as part of their work for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple’s Multimedia Reporting Lab. PlanPhilly is a Philadelphia Neighborhoods partner.
* Brian James Kirk is a former PlanPhilly staffer and has been a consultant to use through his company, Technically Media.