June 18, 2018

Emma Hernández | Movers & Shakers 2018 – Community Builders

Emma Hernández


Latino Collection & Resource Center Coordinator, San Antonio Public Library


BA, Communication Studies, Indiana University, 2015


@xilin_drina on Twitter; @xilin.drina on Instagram

Photo by Esther Luna


A Tech-Tonic Impact

The first time Emma Hernández encountered the term digital inclusion was on the application for the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN)/Google Fiber Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a one-year program for emerging leaders from digitally divided communities to improve digital access. “I…realized that these words described the difficulties I had faced as a lifelong member of the digitally disconnected masses,” she says.

When Hernández was a child, her parents were undocumented Mexican immigrants. “Growing up in a mixed-status household meant that my parents lacked access to a wide array of institutions and services that were readily available to me,” she says.

By the time she applied for—and won—that fellowship, she’d spent nearly five years as a program coordinator at a nonprofit working to empower disenfranchised young people through media access and creation. Like her family, they lacked broadband access, devices, and training.

She took that insight into her fellowship at the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) in July 2016. Over the next year, she expanded the library’s digital literacy program, piloted a Wi-Fi hot spot checkout program that provided free home Internet access to 207 residences in disconnected communities, and partnered with the San Antonio Housing Authority to develop the Digital Literacy Passport, a two-day digital literacy class through which more than 500 public housing residents have earned free, refurbished laptops.

Hernández’s biggest coup was developing San Antonio’s first Digital Inclusion Summit, held on March 1, 2017. More than 150 advocates and organizations—including the San Antonio Office of the Mayor, 80/20 Foundation, Geekdom, NTEN, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Google Fiber—from eight cities gathered to discuss initiatives and best practices to foster digital inclusion and equity. “A big lesson we walked away with was that bringing digital inclusion to the least equal city in the United States [based on income disparities among zip codes] is no small feat, especially in a city where low-income residents are also more likely to be hampered by lack of basic literacy, including text literacy, numeracy and financial literacy, [as well as] digital literacy,” she says.

Hernández continues to push against those barriers. When her fellowship ended, she joined SAPL in August 2017 as coordinator of the newly opened Latino Collection and Resource Center. Users are responding: the first month saw a 241 percent increase in collection usage.

“We live in a world where access to information determines the opportunities available to us,” says Hernández. “I’m eager to take on issues of Mexican hegemony within our Latino collection, attract new library users, and put the chola [a Latina with indigenous lineage] back in scholar.”

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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