In April of 1999, Oberlin Community Services convened a small group of citizens to discuss the social and educational problems faced by local residents. That group came to focus on the need for accessible computer and technology resources, and began to call themselves the Oberlin Community Technology Committee. In November, the CTC hosted a dinner attended by more than 75 local residents in order to discuss strategies to address Oberlin’s digital divide, the gap in access to technology between rich and poor. This “town meeting” included Oberlinians young and old, black and white, male and female, and town and gown. Inexperienced and expert computer users alike agreed on the need for improving local public access to computer technology. The Bridge grew out of the positive energy and suggestions put forth during this event.
The Bridge: Oberlin’s Community Technology Center opened on July 10, 2000 with our inaugural My First Computer Camp for young children. We opened to the public for drop-in hours during August of that year with 12 computers in our drop-in lab, and also began holding free basic computer classes for adults. Under the directorship of Stephanie Jones, The Bridge grew and prospered. We expanded our class offerings, collaborated with community groups for special programs, and introduced a variety of youth programs. The annexation of a second space in our building provided an extra computer lab for classes and special programming.
In 2002, The Bridge formally became a division of the Oberlin Public Library, which had supported The Bridge since its inception, and began receiving support from the library for general operating expenses. We also expanded the reach of our services by offering classes at Mount Zion Baptist Church and by distributing donated computers to community members.
We received the American Library Association’s Library of the Future Award in 2005 and were recognized as the “Best Library Link” by Reader’s Digest in 2006.
Today, The Bridge has over 4000 members and has assisted more than a third of Oberlin residents. We continue to expand in membership and services, and look forward to a long and effective future bridging the digital divide.