Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Awards ALA $950,000 to Improve the Public’s Access to Essential Internet Resources in America’s Public Libraries

PRESS RELEASE

WASHINGTON – The American Library Association’s (ALA’s) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) is launching a major project to increase the benefit that the nation’s public libraries obtain from the federal E-rate program. This effort will include data collection and developing and implementing strategies to make it easier for libraries to participate in the program.

The E-rate is the biggest single source of funding for libraries’ telecommunications and information services. And while many libraries rely on E-rate to make connectivity affordable, many others have difficulty taking full advantage of this essential program.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant will support ALA’s work to develop and provide training and consulting services for libraries so that more libraries can successfully navigate the cumbersome E-rate application process. ALA will also work to improve the E-rate program in the long-term, for example, by advocating for simplification of E-rate’s application and disbursement processes.

According to the recent findings of ALA’s Libraries Connect Communities report (2006-2007), virtually all of America’s public libraries now offer public access to the Internet. However, many of those libraries have difficulty funding the ongoing connectivity costs needed to sustain broadband connections to the Internet that are robust enough to support library users’ access to key online services like education, E-Government services, small business support, and more.

Dr. Alan Inouye, Director of OITP, says this project is a big step toward helping libraries meet their connectivity needs.

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a strong history of funding free, public computer and Internet access in public libraries,” Inouye said. “Their generous support of this project will help to increase the ability of public libraries across the country – especially those with severely constrained budgets – to benefit from the E-rate program and therefore provide their communities with access to essential online services and information such as career development programs, E-government resources, distance learning, and much more.”

“Because of the complexity of the E-rate program, many individual libraries don’t even apply for funding or are denied funding for simple errors,” said Linda Lord, Deputy State Librarian of Maine and Chair of ALA’s E-rate Task Force. “This project by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and ALA will be tremendously helpful to public libraries in obtaining the funding that they desperately need for telecommunications services.”

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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people — especially those with the fewest resources — have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. More information is available at www.gatesfoundation.org.

About Jacob Roberts

Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

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