The Lockhart Special Projects Grant--Lockhart Neighborhood Electronic Training (LOCK.NET)-- is administered by the Dr. Eugene Clark Library. The LOCK.NET project was visited on December 18, 2001. Interviews were conducted with the library director, special projects grant coordinator, and with three participants in the program.

1. The Dr. Eugene Clark Library

Lockhart has a population of about 11,000. Lockhart's population is 54 percent white, 35 percent Hispanic, 10 percent African American, and one percent Asian American. Lockhart is located in a poor county with low per capita income. The city has four districts. The project targets two of the poor districts in the City of Lockhart, districts 1 and 2.

The Dr. Eugene Clark Library is city-supported. The library has 34,000 volumes and an annual circulation of 90,000. The library has four full-time and three part-time staff, including the grant-funded staff. The library received a TIF Community Networking grant in 2000 for $500,000 (LCNet) to provide public access to the Internet. The cooperative grant involves six partners such as the Chamber of Commerce, Seton Health Care, the agricultural extension agency, and the school district. The City serves as the fiscal agent for the grant. The grant funded six workstations in the library, raising the number of public access workstations to 15. The grant provides access to the Internet at 12 sites in town through a wireless network. The library has tables with built-in laptop hookups and data ports. The grant also funded a community web site, currently under development.

The library has an automated catalog and an automated circulation system. The library was among the first ones in Texas to automate, according to the library director.

The heaviest use of the library is computer usage. The preschool reading hour is very popular. The library also offers a summer reading club that is very popular, involving 250 to 300 children.

2. LSTA Special Projects Grant: LOCK.NET

The LOCK.NET project, consisting of three one-year grants, began in September 1999 and will conclude in August 2002. LOCK.NET is a mobile Internet and computer lab with six laptops, a scanner, a printer, and a digital camera. The mobile lab travels to five different locations in Lockhart, offering Internet and computer training to residents of the two lower income districts. Services are provided free of charge through one-on-one training in five locations: four neighborhood churches and at one HeadStart program to parents of children enrolled in the program. The objective of the grant was to provide the training in the targeted neighborhoods where people will feel comfortable and at home. Having the program in the neighborhoods has been critical to the success of the program, according to the library director. The fact that the program is located in neighborhood churches gives it legitimacy in the eyes of the area residents. Word-of-mouth has also been very instrumental in creating awareness of the project.

The library director saw a need in the community for training in computer use and management of digital information, skills that are becoming increasingly important for people to succeed in their education and careers. The library director, who instituted computer use in the library, recognized the need in the community. This was a way to bridge the digital divide, as stated in the program's brochure: "We want to help solve the problem of the "digital divide" in our small community. Offering the economically disadvantaged residents of the community the same electronic resources and training opportunities that other parts of the city already enjoy, free of charge." The digital divide, according to the library director and project coordinator, is not just a term, it is a real economic and cultural divide, preventing people from competing for employment or getting better paying jobs. The objective of the training the project provides has been to lead to employment and to better jobs. The project also helps promote the library to non-traditional users.

Before participants start the program they complete a questionnaire assessing their level of computer skills and inquiring into their training needs and preferences. This questionnaire constitutes the baseline data helping track participants' progress. About 20 percent of the participants come to learn specific programs but the majority do not have any specific preferences; they just want to learn as much as possible. Participants also fill out a questionnaire after they have attended four training sessions. In this questionnaire participants are asked to report how the training has helped them in their personal and professional lives.

The program uses two types of classes. (1) Traditional courses, given between January -May and September-November on different software programs. Each class is a month long and typically consists of eight hours of instruction. (2) A tutorial service, which is ongoing, where clients come in as needed and do not have to be in class for the entire duration. The program also offers taped tutorials that participants can use through headsets. Participants, according to the project coordinator, really like these tutorials. Participants stay about two months in the program, typically until they get a job. About one-half of the participants, in the project coordinator's estimate, join the program to improve their job skills and find a job or a better job. The computer skills taught in the program are at the beginner to intermediate level.

The classes cover topics such as Internet navigation, e-mail, Microsoft Office programs including: Word, Excel, Publisher, PowerPoint, FrontPage; Windows 98, Adobe Photo Delux, Print Shop; managing the PC, Mavis Beacon Typing, scanning and printing; and using language software to learn English and Spanish.

During the preparation of the grant proposal, the library director contacted several sites and asked for their participation in the project. Since the project started, several more churches expressed their interest in becoming training sites. During the first year of the grant services were provided at three sites: two churches and the HeadStart program. In the second year, the program was expanded to four sites and added night classes. The churches and HeadStart program provide facilities and electricity for the program.

In the first year of the grant, the coordinator provided services for 16 hours a week. The coordinator also provided two-hour sessions at an apartment complex twice a month. The program had an attendance of 50 to 90 people a month. In the second year, the coordinator increased her hours and added a part-time assistant, allowing her to expand the program to 24 hours a week. Program sessions include four hours each on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday; three night classes of two-hours in duration; a four-hour Saturday session; and sessions held twice a month at the HeadStart program. Since its second year, the program has had attendance of 150 people a month. Since its start, the project has served 286 people (unduplicated count). About one-half of the program participants have attended classes in order to get jobs.

The library promotes the program in numerous ways. The program is promoted through the City's web site, the library's web site, the project coordinator's web site, and on the City cable channel. The library includes program information in the community calendar published in the town's weekly newspaper (The Post Register). The library distributes door-to-door flyers in the specific neighborhoods, and a brochure is distributed all over town including three times a year to all students at the Lockhart schools. The project also publishes personal interest stories of program participants and how they benefited from the program. The Dr. Eugene Clark Library and the program were also the subject of two newscast programs, one on Channel 36 (May 2001) and one on Austin News 8 (July 2001).

The atmosphere maintained during classes is informal.

The City of Lockhart awarded the project $10,000 for this year, which according to the library director, is the best evidence of the project's success. In addition, the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce helps promote the program.

The LOCK.NET program is a result of collaboration among several local entities that provide facilities, electricity, promotion, and manpower. These include: City of Lockhart/City Hall, Lockhart Chamber of Commerce, Lockhart Independent School District, Texas Workforce Center, TEAMS, Central Texas Library System, The Lockhart Register, St. Marks Methodist Church, Trinity Baptist Church, St. Mary's Catholic Church, St. John's Baptist Church, and Lockhart Child Development/HeadStart.

The Dr. Eugene Clark Library has received four awards for the LOCK.NET program. The City of Lockhart received the Texas Municipal League (TML) Excellence Award in November 2000 for the LOCK.NET program. The LOCK.NET program was voted the best city program in 2001 in the category of innovations and management for cities under 25,000 in population. The Dr. Eugene Clark Library received the Highsmith award from the Texas Library Association (TLA) for the LOCK.NET program as being the most innovative and collaborative program of all libraries in Texas in 2001. As part of the award the LOCK.NET program received $1,000 to go towards software upgrades and supplies. On March 7, 2002 LOCK.NET received a $10,000 award in Austin from the Texas Rural Community. This award will go toward the fourth year of LOCK.NET funding. In April 2002 LOCK.NET will be presented with an award from the Texas Library Association during its annual meeting for the Instruction Project of the Year.

The Dr. Eugene Clark Library director intends to continue the program after the grant is over by incorporating the project into the LCNet grant and making the training part of the LCNet training. The library director, who is an experienced grant writer, plans to apply for grants from foundations and other sources. The coordinator has also undertaken a fund raising campaign targeted at area businesses, trying to recruit area employers to support the program. The director hoped that the City might fund part of the program in future years. The coordinator estimated that the program needs about $65,000 a year to cover two salaries and the Internet lines, installed specifically for the project in the different churches and HeadStart facility; these lines cost about $4,000 a year.

The goal of the grant is to build something that will be continued, according to the library director: "The special projects grant has meant so much to the community that it will kill me to see all the three years of hard work just go away…The need for computer training is not likely to go away and I am committed to seeing it continue." The businesses have not been involved in the program so far, so this is the next step in promoting the program and getting it endorsed and supported by local employers. The largest employers in the county are government agencies, including the school district. The library director is also trying to find funds for the development of the second floor of the library as a training center.

3. Program Participants

The program participants are mostly women (90 percent, according to the coordinator). Some of them home school their children and need computer skills. Most of the women held jobs before. Program participants vary in age: 35 percent, according to program statistics, are people 60 years old or older, 60 percent are between 20 and 59 years old, and five percent are under 20. According to program statistics, LOCK.NET participants consist of 27 percent Hispanics, 37 percent whites, and 26 percent African Americans. Participants do not necessarily come from the two districts; as the program became known in the community it has attracted people from other parts of the town and county. In addition, the Texas Workforce Commission also sends over people for training.

Program participants have been very satisfied with the service they received and the computer skills they learned.

According to the program coordinator, participants feel better about themselves; their self-esteem increases as they go through the program and complete it. As they develop computer skills, their self-confidence increases; they are also more confident about getting a job. Participants feel more part of the community. They also come to the library more to use the computer and feel less intimidated in the library. They also feel confident enough to apply for a job and include their computer skills on their resumes.

One participant, according to the project coordinator, a woman in her 30's, was not working. She wanted to learn some computer skills in order to be on par with her children who use computers at school. She became interested in the graphics program. She started designing flyers and doing projects. First, she designed cards and invitations for her children and for her personal use. She saw some PowerPoint presentations prepared by the project coordinator and recognized that she could use her skills to earn money. She bought a computer and started her own business doing PowerPoint presentations and graphics work.

One of the participants has not worked for seven years but needs to find a job at present because of her husband's illness and disability. She read about the program in the local newspaper over several months. Attracted to the program because it was free, she had no computer skills when she started the program. "The things that I have learned have been phenomenal." The participant uses Word documents and Publisher and has become very proficient in several other programs as well. She has been going to the library on a regular basis to practice on the computers, as well as using the library on a regular basis also to check out books. She also took a two-week program (eight hours a day for eight continuing education credit hours) at the Austin Community College in November. In addition to computer usage, the program also addressed customer service and was targeted to people seeking employment in a calling center. Because she had learned so much in the LOCK.NET program, she was ahead of the rest of her class in Internet and Word usage. She has applied for several jobs. This participant, who lives out in the country, is trying to get her neighbors to know each other and is setting up a newsletter to this purpose. She told a number of friends and neighbors about the program and encouraged them to attend the program.

A second participant, who is retired, worked for the Welfare Department in Los Angeles, California as a supervisor for 35 years but did not use computers. She read about the program in the weekly calendar in the newspaper. Although she had a computer at her home, given to her by her son-in-law, she had never used it, while her husband only knows how to use the Internet. She started by learning how to use the Internet, then proceeded to learn several other programs such as Excel, Publisher, and Word. Now her son in-law e-mails her from his office and is proud of her because her computer skills are better than the computer skills of her daughter. She has told her friends about the program and encouraged them to participate but thus far they have not done so because "they must be afraid, like I used to be, of the computer." She goes to training sessions in the different locations, usually attending classes on Mondays and Fridays, and then practices at home. "Everything that I have learned is very helpful." She now has the ability to use the Internet and can send online letters. She used the Internet to get information on prices and features of printers and scanners before she purchased these products. She got this information through the Internet to become knowledgeable about the products before she went to the store to purchase them. She uses the scanner to scan pictures to send to her family. She is retouching old photographs and plans to send these to her cousins as a Christmas gift along with an online Christmas card. She has also prepared a resume and is looking for a job. She applied for a job at the Austin airport as a screener.

A third participant, who has a small child, began attending the program after she was laid off from a job and decided that she wanted to make a career change. When she looked at the employment section she saw that all jobs require computer skills. She realized that she needed to catch up on her computer skills. She took computer classes when she was in high school but it was on Apple computers. She comes to the program three times a week and has learned a lot. "I am beginning to like computers more and more." She learned Windows, how to use the Internet, e-mail, Word, and PowerPoint. The coordinator helped her to prepare a resume. The participant appreciates the one-on-one training. She has started applying for jobs but feels that she needs more experience in using the computer programs. She considers the coordinator to be very helpful, very patient, and eager to teach. She practices mostly at the church because she does not have a computer at home. She, too, has told her friends about the program.

4. Program Impact

According to the library director and project coordinator, the program has had a very positive effect. The library director stated, "the program has brought in job skills where there were no job skills before. It brought more people into the library." Participants feel grateful that they have been able to learn computer skills free of charge. Many program participants were able to find jobs or better jobs. The community in general feels both grateful and proud to be able to provide such a service to its neediest residents. The participants themselves appreciate that the City cares about its people, according to the library director.

Program participants provided testimonials about the impact the program has had on them, as follows:

After coming to LOCK.NET I was finally able to check "yes" to having computer experience on job applications.

LOCK.NET has been a real blessing in my life. It has not only helped me gain confidence on the computer, but also in gaining self-confidence in my life.

The best thing I like about the program is that I never feel intimidated and no question is ever considered stupid.

I have learned not to be afraid of the computer! That's probably the biggest accomplishment I have made.

As a result of the program, the Dr. Eugene Clark Library has gained more visibility and respect: "The library really stands out among the libraries in this area."

Part Two | Part Three, Section Two

Page last modified: March 2, 2011