Libraries put BTOP funds to work, strengthening communities nationwide

BTOP and US Public Libraries
Earlier this year, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence E. Strickling stated that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) had awarded more than $50 million in Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) funding to develop or expand public computer centers in libraries. Yesterday the ALA released a report (scribd or PDF) sharing library and community impacts from these investments, as well as other BTOP funding for sustainable broadband adoption and comprehensive community infrastructure. Just hours later, Strickling gave the keynote address at the School, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) conference, lauding libraries’ accomplishments and announcing the release of the NTIA Broadband Adoption Toolkit. Both reports put libraries in the spotlight.

The ALA’s “U.S. Public Libraries and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program” 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.

“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 include:

  • Nearly all statewide library projects include 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 doubled its grant goal, which was to upgrade broandband speeds for 45 libraries 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.

There is a lot to celebrate—and to learn from in these BTOP projects. We estimate that about 20 percent of U.S. public libraries have benefited from BTOP funding, so sharing lessons and resources from this program to multiply the impact is critical. Thankfully, NTIA’s new toolkit helps us do just that.

New BTOP-funded computers in use at the Claud H. GilmerMemorial Library in Rocksprings, Texas

New BTOP-funded computers in use at the Claud H. GilmerMemorial Library in Rocksprings, Texas

The Broadband Adoption Toolkit leverages the experience of about 100 communities served by BTOP to benefit the entire nation, giving practical ideas and tools for overcoming barriers to getting more people online access.

“We developed the toolkit in order to share the expert knowledge and experience of the broadband adoption and computer training projects with a broader base of anchor institutions, government agencies, non-profits and others engaged in this effort,” Strickling said in his speech to SHLB. “Our projects reached only a small percentage of the nation’s households, but we want the lessons learned to be available to everyone. And we hope that as the grant program winds down, this toolkit will serve as a legacy and foundation for others to build on as they continue this vital digital inclusion effort.”

The toolkit gives guidance to communities and organizations across the country on how to structure the most effective broadband training programs, set up the most productive computing centers and teach people to use technology to improve their lives. The 68-page publication includes chapters on program planning, outreach, training and curriculum with many practical ideas and tools for bringing new groups online. NTIA utilized the contributions of nearly 40 programs in the toolkit.

ALA and libraries also are well-represented at the SHLB conference, with OITP Assistant Director Marijke Visser and OITP Fellow Bob Bocher leading a session on policy implications of the E-rate funding shortage; Denise Hendlmyer from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission speaking on a broadband adoption plenary panel; Jamie Hollier with PLA’s DigitalLearn.org; Corinne Hill, executive director for the Chattanooga Public Library, on the What do Do with a Gig panel…and that’s just for day one of the conference.

We will share more news from the conference via the @OITP twitter account, using the #shlb2013 tag. And there is another blog post to follow. Until then, please check out ALA and NTIA’s new reports and pass the word on.

As Director of OITP's Program on Networks the Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century (AL21C), Larra’s responsibilities include overall management of OITP’s telecommunications portfolio and day-to-day management of AL21C projects and those in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Previously, she served as the project manager in the ALA Office for Research & Statistics for three years.

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Posted in Digital Divide, Digital Literacy, OITP, Public Libraries, Telecommunications

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