The article below comes from Ann Joslin, who is the Idaho State Librarian and president of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA).
On August 19, 2014, Idaho had the privilege of hosting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly at LinkIDAHO’s Broadband Summit in Boise. He was the keynote speaker and moderated a panel discussion on “Filling the Gaps in Broadband Delivery in Rural and Remote Areas.” His visit also provided an opportunity to showcase Idaho public library services with a trip to the Ada Community Library’s Lake Hazel Branch.
Director Mary DeWalt and her staff prepared a brief fact sheet(pdf) with a general description of the library district and details of the broadband access and services they provide. We toured Lake Hazel’s activity room where their LSTA-funded Make-It materials (building kits, robotics, 3D printer) are housed, and the Commissioner could see several works-in-progress. In addition to a Lego robot and an FM radio were repair parts for a 3-D printer with plastic that had melted in a hot car—all teen group projects. This prompted the Commissioner to describe his view of the roles libraries play today, from traditional to community center to public access technology provider, and serving all age groups. We certainly agree on that point, and Lake Hazel is a perfect example of this!
The conversation was informal and ranged from local clientele, programming, and Internet capacity to statewide broadband capacity challenges. The staff described a variety of ways adults are using the library that involve computers and technology, such as downloading media, social networking, and workforce development. They have also seen an increasing number of parents come with their children to build something together using the Make-It tools.
In light of the FCC’s current order on E-rate modernization, Commissioner O’Rielly referenced his opposition to focusing the one-time $2 billion on Wi-Fi upgrades (internal connections). In their filings, both COSLA (Chief Officers of State Library Agencies) and ALA placed priority on bringing scalable and affordable broadband to more libraries, as well as increasing funding for internal connections (see filings here and here). The Commissioner granted that he was on the short end of that FCC vote, and expressed confidence that the library community can develop a better formula for distributing E-rate funds in the future.
The Lake Hazel Branch is illustrative of several challenges common to Idaho public libraries:
- Wi-Fi can’t be upgraded until they have more bandwidth to the library door.
- Fiber runs along a nearby street, but they can’t afford the one-time cost of bringing it to the library door. As a result, they’re connected via copper at only 20 Mbps, which is inadequate bandwidth most of the time today and will only become more problematic as broadband needs continue to grow.
- After school is always a big draw on their Internet capacity, and community members use the library’s access in an increasing variety of ways. At Ada Community Library, that includes online video visits with inmates of the county jail—the only form of visitation now permitted.
The FCC is an important regulatory agency for the public library community, and one whose policies and procedures we need to better understand. We appreciated Commissioner O’Rielly’s visit to the Lake Hazel Branch Library as a way for him to see first-hand the successes and challenges public libraries face on a daily basis and the impact that E-rate modernization will have on their ability to deliver their broadband-based services. Many thanks to Larra Clark, director of the ALA program on Networks, for contacting his office to suggest the visit.