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Topeka, Kan., Opens Resource Center for Digital Inclusion

A new resource center at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library aims to help bridge a gap that exists when it comes to accessing popular business and legal information online.

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(TNS) — A new resource center at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library aims to bridge a gap that exists when it comes to accessing popular business and legal information.

Meredith Snepp, the library's business and career librarian, knows not everyone in the community is able to easily look up information online about housing programs, job resources, how to access legal forms and more.

"Computer access is so important for anybody who wants to do anything these days," Snepp said. "(It's) hard for those people who don't have those skills, who don't have that computer access or that time. It impacts the daily aspects of all parts of their lives."

So she and a couple of her colleagues decided to stand up a new center at the library to help address that digital disparity.

Their work in recent months has resulted in the library's new Business and Legal Resource Center, which is designed to offer packets of information on a range of topics — from starting a business and handling finances to connecting with housing resources or accessing health and legal forms.

But contrary to today's push to move resources online, Snepp and her team are taking such resources offline.

She noted the idea for the center arose from conversations she had in 2019, when she participated in a Kansas Judicial Branch focus group about access needs.

"It was this whole idea of how do we get (these resources) into people's hands when there's a lack of transportation or lack of computer access or computer skills or the money to print them," Snepp said.

At the library's new resource center — which is located at the back of the library's west wing, near windows facing S.W. 10th Ave. and Stormont Vail Hospital — there are more than 20 different printed packets of information available to those who visit.

"We wanted to make it really user friendly and really easy," Snepp said. "So we color coded everything, and we broke it down into categories.

"When you come in, if you grab a packet, you have everything you need. Our cover sheets tell you what we can do and then what the community offers."

There are packets that include forms needed for legal proceedings, paperwork required to file for divorce, protection order documents, roadmaps to starting a business or nonprofit, information for job seekers, and more.

A few posters at the center also feature relevant QR codes. Using one's phone camera to capture a QR code directs the user to a page on the library's website, where they may schedule an appointment with Snepp or one of her business-and-career-team colleagues.

In addition, the center is home to pamphlets and information from other organizations around town, such as the Topeka Workforce Center and the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

"There are a lot of great of great resources," Snepp said. "There's just not a unified way to find them."

And the library's new hub is changing that.

Snepp said she hopes to see the resource center expand in coming years and perhaps even get moved up front. She would also like to eventually offer all of the resources in Spanish.

"I'd love to see even more community resources," she added. "And I'd love to see a space where different community agencies can come in and partner."

Though Snepp said the resource center is an important step toward improving access to information, she noted it isn't the final answer.

"It's great that we have this," she said, "but it would be super great if digital access was something everybody had, and if these did live online, anybody could get them and print them."

© 2021 The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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