Last week, library E-rate coordinators from 40 states spent three days in Arlington, Virginia, learning the ins and outs of the E-rate program. This session was led by E-rate expert and OITP consultant Linda Schatz, whose combination of humor, knowledge and unflagging energy makes her an unbelievably effective trainer.
This session was the first activity in the second year of OITP’s Improving Library E-rate Participation project. In the first year of the project, OITP held two training sessions for state E-rate coordinators. We observed the rates of E-rate participation among libraries before and after the training sessions, and found that more libraries were favorably impacted by E-rate after the training. This confirms our view that state E-rate coordinators — who train E-rate applicants in the field, answer questions for applicants and much, much more — make a huge difference in how libraries benefit from E-rate.
In this new year of the project, OITP added a one-day session for those coordinators who are new to the E-rate program. As anyone who has worked with E-rate can tell you, this complicated program can seem impossible to master at first glance. It can be hard for those who are new to the program to get up to speed enough to even benefit from training. Judging from the looks of the “newbies” at the end of the first day, it’s safe to say we helped them get a healthy start on the E-rate learning curve.
This E-rate training is part of OITP’s portfolio on networks managed by Carrie Lowe.
E-rate is the popular name for a far-sighted extension of Universal Service, as authorized by Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This federal initiative provides discounts to public libraries and to public and private K-12 schools on telecommunications services, Internet access, and some closely related costs, such as inside wiring. The discounts range from 20% to 90% with the deepest discounts going to those communities with the greatest need based upon the local eligibility levels for participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
The E-rate has played a pivotal role in helping libraries connect their users to the Internet. Today, more than 99% of our nation’s libraries offer Internet access to the public. This is compared to 1996, when 28% of library systems that offered public access to the Internet in at least one branch. With more than $547 million in discounts to library applicants since 1998, the E-rate has helped change the public library’s information technology landscape.