Thinking About Rural

White House Rural Council Convening With NTCA (photo by NTCA)

White House Rural Council Convening With NTCA                             (photo by NTCA)

Rural has been on my mind of late. In part because of having traveled recently to a conference in the Midwest and looking out the plane window over the patchwork fields and thinking about how remote some of the farms are and wondering whether the families have a fiber connection, or dial-up or satellite internet–or none at all and then wondering how far it was to the town I could see in the distance and then wondering if the town had a library and what the connection speed was like at the library. Then I wondered what kinds of services the library would be providing and whether it had robust Wi-Fi for the kids who come in after school. Then I wondered how much the library was paying for the connection. And, of course I wondered if the library had access to a fiber connection or whether it too was limited in the speeds it could receive.

Airplane musings aside, I really have rural on my mind because of the ongoing efforts at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to get those libraries and those families and their communities connected to the kind of speeds I (in theory, anyway) have access to back on the ground in D.C. The importance of what we’re trying to accomplish through the E-rate proceeding was made ever more clear to me last week. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend an event hosted by the White House Rural Council for members of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. The event focused on the association’s Smart Rural Community initiative and specifically on the 2014 award winners in that initiative. While I am still learning the details of everything NTCA members do for their communities, what I have gained thus far is a further appreciation for the difference strong, committed, and collaborative leadership can make in building a successful community broadband solution. The White House event provided a forum for awardees to highlight the impact their smart rural community has on the opportunities and quality of life for the residents of those communities.

For example, in the presentation by Nancy J. White, chief executive officer of North Central Telephone Cooperative (Lafayette, Tenn.), we heard about the work her company has undertaken to improve access to state-of-the-art healthcare for her rural community. Keith Gabbard, general manager of Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (McKee, Ky.) described a program to provide virtual classes to students during extreme winter weather when schools close and also a partnership with the public library to provide digital literacy training which is especially important as this community has the highest unemployment rate in the state. We also heard from Brian Thomason, general manager and chief executive officer of Blue Valley Tele-Communications, Inc. (Home, Kan.) who spoke eloquently about the role of high-capacity broadband in spurring economic development and allowing rural America to flourish.

Libraries support smart rural communities

Anecdotes from libraries in rural America echo the experiences of the NTCA members I spoke with at the event. A library in Mississippi that helped a family with a special needs child connect to classes that allowed him graduate from school; libraries in Georgia that helped over the road truckers complete an online certification course so they can maintain their license and their livelihood; a library in Maine where a self-employed video editor uploads work for his clients across the country because his home connection is too slow; a library in Alaska that connected a parent to a medical specialist so she could complete six weeks of training to take care of her child with diabetes; a library that provides Wi-Fi for a mother to Skype regularly with her son stationed in Afghanistan; or a library that streamed a granddaughter’s graduation in Germany for her grandmother. These examples should be commonplace and could be if there were more communities where the lack of access to affordable high-capacity broadband was not an issue.

The well-connected library is the quintessential community access point for completing Education, jumpstarting Employment and Entrepreneurship, fostering individual Empowerment, and encouraging community Engagement. High-capacity broadband is the crucial foundation on which The E’s of Librariesâ„¢ are built. The NTCA members that were recognized for their role in developing smart rural communities  provide important opportunities for libraries (and other anchor institutions), but it is the difference of opportunity for the residents which we all work to ensure that was highlighted that day.

As Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, said in her remarks at the event, it is the storytelling that should be celebrated. I would add, especially in D.C. where the policy making is so often divorced from the potential impact it could have if done right. Right when it comes to broadband and rural libraries means having options for affordable high-capacity broadband so that more libraries can be part of the stories I heard from the Smart Rural Community award winners.

Posted in E-Rate, OITP, Public Libraries, Telecommunications Tagged with: , ,

IRS provides update to libraries on tax form program

Photo by AgriLifeToday via Flickr

Photo by AgriLifeToday via Flickr

On Tuesday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that the agency will continue to deliver 1040 EZ forms to public libraries that are participating in the Tax Forms Outlet Program (TFOP). TFOP offers tax products to the American public primarily through participating libraries and post offices. The IRS will distribute new order forms to participating libraries in the next two to three weeks.

The IRS released the following statement on November 4, 2014:

Based on the concerns expressed by many of our TFOP partners, we are now adding the Form 1040 EZ, Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers with No Dependents, to the list of forms that can be ordered. We will send a supplemental order form to you in two to three weeks. We strongly recommend you keep your orders to a manageable level primarily due to the growing decline in demand for the form and our print budget. Taxpayers will be able to file Form 1040 EZ and report that they had health insurance coverage, claim an exemption from coverage or make a shared responsibility payment. However, those who purchased health coverage from the Health Insurance Marketplace must use the Form 1040 or 1040A.Your help communicating this to your patrons within your normal work parameters would be greatly appreciated.

We also heard and understood your concerns of our decision to limit the number of Publication 17 we plan to distribute. Because of the growing cost to produce and distribute Pub 17, we are mailing to each of our TFOP partners, including branches, one copy for use as a reference. We believe that the majority of local demand for a copy of or information from Publication 17 can be met with a visit to our website at www.irs.gov/formspubs or by ordering it through the Government Printing Office. We value and appreciate the important work you do providing IRS tax products to the public and apologize for any inconvenience this service change may cause.

Public library leaders will have the opportunity to discuss the management and effectiveness of the Tax Forms Outlet Program with leaders from the IRS during the 2015 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting session “Tell the IRS: Tax Forms in the Library.” The session takes place on Sunday, February 1, 2015.

Posted in Government Information, OGR, Public Libraries Tagged with: , ,

Reminder: Free webinar “Giving legal advice to patrons”

Photo by Cushing Library Holy Names University

Photo by Cushing Library Holy Names University via Flickr

Reminder: To help reference staff build confidence in responding to legal inquiries, the American Library Association (ALA) and iPAC will host the free webinar “Lib2Gov.org: Connecting Patrons with Legal Information” on Wednesday, November 12, 2014, from 2:00—3:00 p.m. EDT.

The session will offer information on laws, legal resources and legal reference practices. Participants will learn how to handle a law reference interview, including where to draw the line between information and advice, key legal vocabulary and citation formats. During the webinar, leaders will offer tips on how to assess and choose legal resources for patrons. Register now as space is limited.

Catherine McGuire, head of Reference and Outreach at the Maryland State Law Library, will lead the free webinar. McGuire currently plans and presents educational programs to Judiciary staff, local attorneys, public library staff and members of the public on subjects related to legal research and reference. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the Conference of Maryland Court Law Library Directors and the co-chair of the Education Committee of the Legal Information Services to the Public Special Interest Section (LISP-SIS) of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).

Webinar: Lib2Gov.org: Connecting Patrons with Legal Information
Date: Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Time: 2:00—3:00 p.m. EDT

The archived webinar will be emailed to District Dispatch subscribers.

Posted in OGR, Public Libraries, Webinars Tagged with: ,

Data powers advocacy: Please log onto Digital Inclusion Survey today!

The Digital Inclusion Survey is open until November 22.

The Digital Inclusion Survey is open until November 22.

I can attest to the power of library data like that provided by thousands of libraries through the Digital Inclusion Survey throughout my career. From reporters calling the Public Information Office to other researchers and library students while in the Office for Research and Statistics to now with Beltway policymakers and legislators, the time librarians make to respond to national surveys puts our community “on the map” for those who might otherwise count us out of the Digital Age.

I know (and certainly hear from) librarians who participate in surveys ranging from the Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS) Public Libraries Survey to the Public Library Data Service report and can get understandably fatigued by the number of surveys and questions. It’s a fair question to ask “is this worth my time” among many pressing tasks–and even “what’s in it for me?” My colleagues in other American Library Association (ALA) units and at the Information Policy & Access Center at the University of Maryland take these questions seriously.

Here’s five reasons I think public library staff should say “yes” to the Digital Inclusion Survey:

  1. ALA and the University of Maryland iPAC team have made the online platform as easy to use as possible, plus allowing folks to import last year’s data if you’ve participated before.
  2. We make it easy to leverage data for advocacy at all levels. Issue briefs, state summaries, reports and infographics provide bite-size pieces, context and visual appeal on the topics ranging from digital inclusion writ large to e-government and employment.*
  3. We don’t sit on our laurels. Have you looked at the new, interactive mapping feature that combines GIS, community demographic data and your library information on the fly? Your city and county managers thought it was pretty cool when we showed it to them.
  4. These data and the resulting reports allow you to see your library and its programs and services among libraries of similar sizes, and within a state* and national context, as well as your local community.
  5. ALA puts the data to work for you and your colleagues. We take these state summaries to senators; use the data to inform and bolster our policy recommendations, testimony and public comments; and publicize the heck out of what we’ve learned from all of you in media ranging from Fast Company to Governing magazine.

As often as you are asked to respond to a survey, we are asked to document why libraries need more funding through the federal E-rate program, to answer how many libraries offer 3D printers, and to show how libraries are helping supporting a 21st century workforce. I can’t credibly answer these questions without your help.

The Digital Inclusion Survey is open until November 22. Be the answer!

[*We can only provide state-level summaries for those states where we have enough responses. Tell your neighbor!]

Posted in OITP, Public Libraries Tagged with:

Webinar archive available: “$2.2 Billion reasons libraries should care about WIOA”

Photo by the Knight Foundation

Photo by the Knight Foundation

On Monday, more than one thousand people participated in the American Library Association’s (ALA) webinar “$2.2 Billion Reasons to Pay Attention to WIOA,” an interactive webinar that focused on ways that public libraries can receive funding for employment skills training and job search assistance from the recently-passed Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

During the webinar, leaders from the Department of Education and the Department of Labor explored the new federal law. Watch the webinar.

An archive of the webinar is available now:

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act allows public libraries to be considered additional One-Stop partners, prohibits federal supervision or control over selection of library resources and authorizes adult education and literacy activities provided by public libraries as an allowable statewide employment and training activity. Additionally, the law defines digital literacy skills as a workforce preparation activity.

View slides from the webinar presentation:

Webinar speakers included:

  • Susan Hildreth, director, Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • Kimberly Vitelli, chief of Division of National Programs, Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor
  • Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, team leader, Applied Innovation and Improvement, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education

We are in the process of developing a WIOA Frequently Asked Questions guide for library leaders–we’ll publish the report on the District Dispatch shortly. Subscribe to the District Dispatch, ALA’s policy blog, to be alerted to when additional WIOA information becomes available.

Posted in Government Information, Grants, OGR, Public Libraries, Webinars Tagged with: , , , ,

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