Friends of the Richmond Public Library

Public Libraries: A Lifeline to Technology Resources

Posted on 02/12/2013

New ALA Report “U.S. Public Libraries and BTOP” Shares Community Impacts

Today, the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy released “U.S. Public Libraries and BTOP,” a new report (pdf) that details U.S. library engagement with the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

The preliminary report is the first of its kind to highlight statewide library BTOP projects and the improvements they have made to public access technology resources, digital literacy and workforce development.

NTIA established BTOP to increase broadband access and adoption nationwide, and U.S. state and public libraries have been critical partners in this effort. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded just over $4 billion to 233 BTOP projects.

“Libraries have served as first responders in these tough economic times,” said ALA President Maureen Sullivan. “Libraries report services for job seekers as the most important public internet service they provide.

“Millions of Americans have turned to us to gain new technology skills and access to specialized resources. BTOP has helped to enable expanded services and to develop the improved infrastructure to meet these community needs.”

Highlights from the report:

  • The Maine State Library is working with the Volunteer Lawyers Project to provide legal information clinics through new library videoconferencing technology. The clinics will be offered in real time, allowing patrons at multiple locations, and especially in rural locations, to attend and ask questions directly of the presenting attorney.
  • More than 365,000 Coloradans increased their digital literacy skills through that state’s BTOP project. Ninety-five percent of those who took formal classes in Colorado stated they learned a valuable skill and would recommend the classes to others.
  • The Nebraska Library Commission expects to more than double its grant goal (45 libraries) for upgrading broadband speeds in this mostly rural state. Of the 85 libraries upgraded so far, the average speed moved from 2.9Mbps to 18.2Mbps. All 147 Nebraska libraries now offer Wi-Fi.

“With more than 16,400 locations providing no-fee public access to computers and the Internet, libraries combine trained staff, relevant digital content and a trusted community institution to support digital opportunity,” said Larra Clark, director of the ALA’s Program on Networks.

The preliminary report can be found on the ALA Washington Office blog, District Dispatch (pdf), and a final report will be available by April 1.

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