The Whip Hair Design is a locally-owned and operated barbershop situated at 904 N 4th Street # C in the North End community of Champaign, Illinois. Through a collaborative partnership with the owner, employees, and customers, we are creating a community technology learning center within the barbershop setting and promoting digital literacy through workshop programs.
The North End community sits on northern periphery of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and consists of primarily underserved African-American families and businesses. The Whip is a local institution among residents. It is a gathering place and public forum for discussing issues relevant to the community members. There, relationships are forged and sustained, and sometimes broken. For the employees and many customers, the Whip is where life happens and experiences are shared. It is dominated by males, but women and children also go there for various reasons and/or needs.
With no financial resources set aside for the project, we assessed the cost-efficient, pre-existing resources at the Whip. This included both physical and human resources, including the following:
- Televisions (2)
- Computer (1)
- Wireless internet connection
- Integrated Router/Access Point (1)
- Printer (1)
- Computer hardware (chassis/towers and monitors)
- Discs containing computer wipe software, Operating System (OS), Security Updates, Drivers Updates, Memory, Hard Drive (DVD/CD Rom)
- Electric power cord, and 8-ports power switch, Ethernet cables, Router/Switch and hardware tools.
- Knowledge of community members’ interests and needs
- Knowledge of how community members interact with technology
- Other LIS 451 and 490 students and instructors, Martin Wolske and Colin Rhinesmith.
Activities and Outputs
The Whip is a multi-functional space. While primarily a barbershop and salon (despite the hyper-masculine environment), it is also a market place, information and community center. In essence, the Whip is a life-line, constantly gauging its pulse of the community. It is a gathering place and public forum for discussing issues relevant to community members. There, relationships are forged and sustained, and sometimes broken. For the employees and many customers, the Whip is where life happens and experiences are shared. Learning activities take place at the Whip, school kids do their homework before going home from school. These include reading, searching information that is necessary for school assignment from the Internet.
Education | Through a series of discussions, both the owner and shop managers stressed a desire to reach out to ex-offenders. We concluded that many ex-offenders struggle to find work and face obstacles in re-joining the workforce due to a major shift from paper to online job applications. Additionally, resources and information for ex-offenders are predominately available only online. This includes information pertaining to second-chance employers, community and human services, non-profit and government assistance programs, and educational opportunities are As a result, we planned to hold a workshop on efficient online searching, geared specifically towards the interests of ex-offenders.
Space | The Whip is a relatively small space. We wanted to create a space for the computers that was partially separated from the main space, without disconnecting or isolating computer users from the general barbershop atmosphere in order to enhance or encourage collaboration. As a result, we elected to shift the seating/waiting area forward by approximately 5-6 feet. This area provided optimal security, due to its distance from the door/windows and its proximity to the barber stations. By integrating the computers into the pre-existing shop layout, the computer area will hopefully create a sense of inclusion for users, leading to a sense of ownership. Even though the computer area is easily monitored by staff members, the computers will be arranged to provide maximum privacy for users. Overall, we develop a plan to incorporate additional computers into the space, in a cost-effective manner, without compromising the shop atmosphere.
Technology | With one computer in place, we planned to incorporate 3 additional computers to increase customer access. Since computer users range from young children to adults and beginners to advance users, the computers required a basic, open source operating system with general, user-friendly software.