August 31, 2022

A picture containing persons standing outdoors with boxes of computer equipment.
Laptops and computers that were shared as part of the Digital Navigator program (Photo courtesy Salt Lake City Public Library).

“When we asked individuals to state their digital access goal, I was surprised at how many people viewed access to technology as a positive step in life that allowed them to participate in digital spaces and communicate with friends and family.” — Shauna Edson, Technology and Digital Equity Manager at the Salt Lake City Public Library

When the COVID-19 pandemic first disconnected us from public places in 2020, it also created a widespread need for trustworthy digital inclusion services. Maintaining equity in the digital realm became a real and pervasive challenge due to limited access to devices and internet connections in rural or underserved communities. With libraries closing their doors across the U.S., patrons could no longer count on the digital services libraries offer.

In an uncertain and isolating time, it was perhaps even more crucial for people to virtually connect with others in their lives and access the latest public health news.

In response to this emerging need, the Salt Lake City Public Library received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to develop a Digital Navigators Program that adapted traditional digital inclusion programming to the new reality its community faced, providing one-to-one dedicated support via phone and door-to-door personalized assistance when needed.

A person and person standing next to a van with a bottle of water.
Two staff members heading out to distribute Digital Navigators materials (Photo courtesy of the Salt Lake City Public Library).
A group of people posing for the camera.
Two staff members (masked) helped this couple set up their cell phone and took a selfie to celebrate (Photo courtesy of the Salt Lake City Public Library).

Plugging In and Advancing Equity

To support the community in meeting their digital needs, the project staff—or Digital Navigators—helped library patrons get access to the internet at home or via a hotspot, obtain a computer device, and engage in foundational digital knowledge and skill-building opportunities.

Shauna Edson, Technology and Digital Equity Manager at the Salt Lake City Public Library, served as the project director for the Digital Navigator Program from October 2020 to September 2021. Her work included leading staff at the library and three community partner organizations to provide Digital Navigator services to library patrons.

“My favorite part of working on this project was spending time getting to know folks in our community during our ‘foot campaign,’ where we spent six weeks canvassing 220 miles in our service areas of Glendale, Poplar Grove, and Rose Park,” Edson said. “I was humbled by how excited people were to greet library staff in their neighborhoods. We were able to help folks with their tech questions right on their front porch!”

Despite the rapidly changing public health guidelines when Edson and the project team were designing the Digital Navigators Program, they succeeded in creating a service model that allowed for remote support, as well as in-person support—keeping social distancing precautions in mind.

“We often only think of digital inclusion work as the nuts and bolts of internet access and helping folks get an email account,” Edson said. “But it is important to acknowledge our own biases around technology use and recognize the myriad ways individuals benefit from full participation in the digital world.”

Expanding Services for All

The project team provided Digital Navigator services to 585 low-income or older Salt Lake City community members over a 10-month period.

To help more communities in need, Edson also collaborated with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Urban Libraries Council to create a replicable model for digital equity services, which includes a toolkit to provide information that organizations can use and adapt to set up a Digital Navigator service in their own communities.

The Salt Lake City Public Library plans to integrate the lessons learned from the Digital Navigator Program into their regular patron services. Since the launch of the project, they have shifted to one-on-one, in-person computer assistance that includes a broader range of support, and they plan to adapt computer workshops based on the types of digital skills support their patrons request the most.

About the Project

Grant Project Name: Digital Navigators Program
Grant Log Number: LG-248566-OLS-20
Year Awarded: 2020
Recipient: Salt Lake City Public Library
Project Contact:
Shauna Edson
Technology and Digital Equity Manager
Salt Lake City Public Library


National Leadership Grants for Libraries