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Surfing while sudsing: Baltimore Wash & Learn Initiative equips laundromats with computers

The Enoch Pratt Free Library has partnered with Libraries Without Borders to bring laptops and tablets as well as teaching digital skills to four Baltimore laundromats. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

Your neighborhood laundromat may no longer be a place to simply wash clothes and fight boredom.

This week the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Libraries without Borders are installing computers and tablets in four large laundromats around Baltimore to bring technology tools to city communities where many residents lack internet access.

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While a load is spinning, customers can sort through databases and benefit from one-on-one technology training. Librarians will be on hand for 10 hours a week at the HIPP Laundromat at 3101 Pulaski Highway, as well as at Laundry City, at 3421 Frederick Ave. However, the technology centers will be available to customers whenever the laundromats are open. Two other sites, the Sudsville Laundromats at 3921 Erdman Ave. and 7001 Reisterstown Road, will offer independent learning.

The Baltimore Wash & Learn Initiative (WALI) is made possible by support from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, which connected Libraries Without Borders with the Pratt, and the Media Democracy Fund. Both organizations are committed to closing the digital divide. Wash & Learn Initiatives are operating in eight states. Azure Grimes, Project Coordinator with Libraries Without Borders, an educational nonprofit, described Baltimore’s WALI, developed with community input, as “the largest and most localized effort yet.”

At the launch of the Wash & Learn Initiative, Heidi Daniel, Pratt Library president and CEO, was joined by the library’s partners, and city officials, including Mayor Jack Young and Councilman Brandon Scott. Daniel explained that each technology center offers portals to “resources for employment, education, technology training and fun and games, particularly for children.” She added, “The Pratt Library is committed to leveling the playing field by meeting customers where they are.”

Darius DeShawn Bunch, 27, who lives near the HIPP Laundromat, stopped in by chance during Monday’s launch. He visited the Technology Center, a cozy corner nook decorated with posters and staffed by Pratt librarians, where four laptops and three tablets, each bolted to the table, beckoned. After he accessed the job application portal with the help of librarian Kelsey Harper, Bunch said: “I like that you can do stuff while you are in the laundromat. You can look at tennis shoes, look for jobs, and fill out applications.”

Kendall Chisholm, 13, of East Baltimore, who was playing games on a tablet, concurred, saying: “Whenever you need to relax your mind you can come here. I can chill — sometimes you aren’t always meant to be outside. It’s free. Too many kids ain’t got this. I will definitely come back. It’s nice.”

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