Community Access Program
Community is at the heart of the Nova Scotia Community Access Program (C@P).
“Without that, it’s just a computer in a building,” says Eric Stackhouse, chair of Nova Scotia C@P and chief librarian of the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library. “And that’s not what C@P is. It’s more than the computer. It’s what the community does with that computer.”
C@P is a federal, provincial and community initiative. There are about 200 C@P sites in Nova Scotia, serving 11 regions. There is also a francophone network. All told, users spend more than a million hours on the computers every year – and the usage continues to grow.
As Stackhouse explains, C@P provides communities with access to and training in computing equipment, software, high-speed Internet, printing and scanning. There is also assistive technology such as large-size monitors for people with visual difficulties and different types of mice for people with motor difficulties.
“Really what we want to do there is just make sure that everyone has access to this, no matter what their ability is,” Stackhouse says. “Because I think what we’ve all learned as we’ve gone along is that really there’s no such thing as a disability. It’s a flaw in the environment and they just need to make that environment work with that person.”
It’s in the application of the technology that the community’s ownership of C@P is most apparent. Examples include building community websites, offering training to seniors, holding cyber camps for youth and helping people seeking jobs with such tasks as résumé writing.
“It’s provided a link to the outside world for many communities. It allows those communities to tell the world about themselves,” Stackhouse says. “In the projects that the communities come up with that C@P helps make happen, they are given the chance to describe who they are, what their needs are, what their aspirations are. Also, because it is so focused at the community level, it really empowers people at a very grassroots level to take control of the direction that their communities are going in.”
Stackhouse values the community spirit within Nova Scotia. “These are very innovative, very creative people who are either from here or have come to live here and they are doing some amazing things,” he says. “I travel around Canada and North America and the world a fair bit in my work and when I tell people what Nova Scotia’s doing in all sorts of ways they go, ‘Wow, I wish we were doing that!’”
Stackhouse, who received the Norman Horrocks Award for Library Leadership in 2006, has been involved with C@P since its beginnings in Nova Scotia in the mid-90s. In fact, he set up the first public access computer in the Canso library. “I did that and as soon as I said, ‘There, it works,’ two kids pushed me out of the way to get on it,” he recalls with a laugh.
Enthusiasm and support for Nova Scotia C@P continues to be strong. Annually, the program receives about $900,000 in federal and provincial government funding which Stackhouse says becomes $9 million through municipal support, grants, and contributions of money, in-kind donations and time.
The library system is a significant C@P partner. Trudy Amirault is director of Western Counties Regional Library and vice-chair of Nova Scotia C@P. “I think C@P is important because it equalizes opportunity, in that to have opportunity in today’s world you must have access to the Internet,” she says.
Amirault has many examples which demonstrate the diverse benefits of C@P, from providing immigrants with access to high-speed Internet to developing a website showcasing the abilities of people with disabilities.
“I think one of the unique features of the C@P program is that it really is driven by the needs of the community,” Amirault says. “So in one community like Meteghan it might be people with disabilities. In Pubnico, the focus is on culture and history, so they’re using C@P equipment to scan historical documents and make them available on the web. It’s a completely different focus, one which that community identified as what they needed.”
Employment is another benefit. Over 120 young people are hired each summer (and a smaller number in the winter on a part-time basis) to work as C@P interns. “Many of them go on to have successful careers in information technology, and for many of them this was their first IT job,” Amirault says.
Stackhouse speaks of the innovation and outside-the-box thinking evident in the ideas brought forward by the communities. “Of many of them you would say, ‘that doesn’t have a lot to do with technology,’ but technology is like the hammer that pounds in the nail that makes the house.”
A good example comes from the C@P site in River John. There was a lack of information online about the Nova Scotia lobster fishery. So a researcher was hired and a website (www.parl.ns.ca/lobster) created about the lobster “from the sea floor to the plate,” Stackhouse says.
“It’s been linked by organizations all over the world and kids use it all the time to learn about lobster,” he says. “And then they went to the next stage and now they’re saying, ‘Well, you know what? It would be really neat if there was a children’s story book that talked to young children about the importance of lobster,’ so actually that’s a second project now going on.”
W. Glen White chaired the River John C@P site for about 10 years. He says C@P has connected River John to the world. “I think the focal point for technology has done an awful lot for the larger community.”
Professionally and personally, Stackhouse is happy to have made Nova Scotia his adopted home. “It’s a great community place for me,” he says. “Nova Scotia is very, very welcoming. It’s very easy to get involved and make a difference.”
Feature story written by Marie Weeren