Coalition Spotlight: Libraries Without Borders

by Opportunity Nation   •  

This is a monthly feature that shines a light on the work of one of Opportunity Nation’s Coalition members. This month, we’re highlighting Libraries Without Borders. If you’re a part of the Opportunity Nation Coalition and you’d like to be a part of our Coalition Spotlight, please
 contact Juanita Tolliver.


A guiding principle of Libraries Without Borders….
To reduce the vulnerability of of people around the world through better access to information, education and cultural tools.

Current priorities…
In the United States, Libraries Without Borders (LWB) is working to provide early learning, literacy, numeracy and workforce development tools to low-income, high-need communities. Through our experiences in humanitarian emergencies and disaster contexts, we have developed an innovative technology that expands access to information to vulnerable communities around the world: the IdeasCube. The IdeasCube is a digital library that holds thousands of educational and informational resources. It operates on open source hardware and software developed by Libraries Without Borders, which is comprised of a digital server that generates a close-range Wi-Fi hotspot, and software that gives users access to customized web-based content.

Roughly the size of a dictionary, the IdeasCube can be accessed through a smartphone, tablet, laptop or other Wi-Fi-enabled device. It contains a digital library with thousands of curated educational, informational and training tools in a variety of formats, including interactive tutorials, e-books, videos, PDFs and multimedia tools.  

The IdeasCube is highly mobile, requires little energy to operate and has very low maintenance costs. The technology that makes up the IdeasCube was borne out of Libraries Without Borders’ efforts in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, when we sought a simple and scalable solution to provide people in crises with opportunities to learn and develop skills for the future. LWB has since launched the IdeasCube in refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) camps, remote and isolated communities, Native American reservations and urban centers in need of access to information, education and cultural tools.

This summer, we will be launching a summer education program at local laundromats in the Bronx and Detroit.

Timely collaborations…
For our laundromat initiative, we are partnering with the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, Southwest Solutions, buildOn Detroit and the Mayor’s Office in Detroit. In the Bronx, we’re partnering with The Dreamyard Project, an organization that collaborates with Bronx youth, families and schools to build pathways to equity and opportunity through the arts.

Engaging young people…
Libraries Without Borders works with youth and local communities in all of our programs. From our inception, we have made a concerted effort to include local organizations, community members and other key stakeholders in the development, management and evaluation of our programs. We do so in a number of ways — from conducting surveys to organizing town halls to gain participant feedback to hiring local program coordinators and facilitators. Through our laundromat initiative this summer, we’re engaging local youth in the Bronx and Detroit, cultivating their leadership and management skills by giving them opportunities to lead volunteer teams and work directly with members of their own community.

What more people should know…
Libraries Without Borders does great work in disaster relief and humanitarian emergencies internationally, but we’re also at the vanguard of open source EdTech and are doing incredible work reconceptualizing the library as a space for innovation and communal exchange domestically. Our laundromat initiative is a prime example of this. We’ve not only developed innovative technologies that make libraries more accessible to vulnerable populations, we’re also working to transform the education space as a whole. We seek to transform time frames around learning and incentivize the ownership of learning, so that vulnerable people can take charge of their destinies.

Currently working on….
In light of the Trump administration’s Executive Orders on Border Security and Interior Enforcement, legal aid organizations are scrambling to respond to the rapid legal changes. At the same time, many immigrants do not use these services for fear of being identified by immigration enforcement authorities. The Trump administration’s new enforcement agenda, coupled with major shifts in the federal government’s approach to immigration, has stoked fear among immigrants.

LWB aims to fill a critical information gap by promoting legal literacy among vulnerable immigrants in the United States. With ten years of experience delivering information, education and cultural tools in disaster relief contexts and humanitarian emergencies, LWB is well-positioned to expand and scale the capacity of partnering legal aid organizations, enabling them to reach those most in need.

We know legal aid organizations face a variety of resource constraints that prevent them from maximizing their impact in the field. The IdeasCube offers an innovative delivery mechanism for on-site service provision, strengthening the capacity of partner organizations by giving them an additional channel to reach immigrant communities. It equips partners with a user-friendly platform where immigrants with varied legal statuses can gain critical legal literacy skills beyond the organization’s hours of operation and regardless of its staffing constraints. The IdeasCube also expands the reach of partner organizations by going into the very communities where undocumented immigrants live in a safe, discreet and easily accessible manner. With this program, LWB’s goal is two-fold: to amplify efforts of legal aid organizations and dramatically increase the transmission and reception of their resources and to empower immigrants with legal literacy, allowing them to exercise their rights under U.S. law.

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Opportunity Nation Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 350 cross-sector organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America. Opportunity Nation envisions the United States as a nation where everyone – regardless of where they were born – has equal access to opportunity, economic mobility, and success at all stages of life.

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