May 2, 2013
Today, the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy released “U.S. Public Libraries and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program,” a new report that details U.S. library engagement with the federal program.
The report is the first to highlight state and local library BTOP projects nationwide and the improvements they have made to public access technology resources, digital literacy, and workforce development. Library projects in 29 states and the District of Columbia are featured in the report. ALA estimates about 20 percent of U.S. public libraries have benefited from BTOP funding.
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. The NTIA established BTOP to increase broadband access and adoption nationwide, and U.S. state and public libraries have been critical partners in this effort.
“Libraries have served as first responders in these tough economic times,” said ALA President Maureen Sullivan. “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:
- Nearly all statewide library projects included digital literacy training. More than 367,000 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.
- Nearly 600 people who participated in New York State Library’s “Broadband Express @ your library” programs and used online job resources went on to secure employment. The Nebraska Library Commission has more than double its grant goal (45 libraries) for upgrading broadband speeds in this mostly rural state. Of the 101 libraries upgraded so far, the average speed moved from 2.9 Mbps to 21.4 Mbps.
- Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Oklahoma and Rhode Island have established new videoconferencing capabilities in several, if not all, libraries in their states. The Maine State Library is deploying its statewide network to provide legal information clinics through the Volunteer Lawyers Project. The clinics are offered in real time, allowing patrons at multiple locations, and especially in rural locations, to attend and ask questions directly of the presenting attorney.
Recent research from the Pew Internet Project finds that the availability of free computers and Internet access (including Wi-Fi) now rivals book lending as a vital library service. In a national survey of Americans ages 16 and older, 77 percent say free access to computers and the Internet is a “very important service” of libraries, while 80 percent say the same for borrowing books. As 62 percent of libraries report being the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities, the critical role libraries play in their communities is amplified.
“With more than 16,400 locations providing public access to computers and the Internet, libraries combine technology infrastructure, trained staff and relevant digital content to support digital opportunity,” said Larra Clark, director of the ALA’s Program on Networks. “BTOP’s strategic investments and partnerships must continue to be leveraged and broadened to truly transform our libraries and communities.”
About the American Library Association
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 58,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.
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