What good is a gig?

This guest blog post is by Angela Siefer, Senior Research Associate, Center for Digital Inclusion.

Through a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, we at the Center for Digital Inclusion, Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois provided continuing education forums and conducted site visits focused on libraries that either have or are about to get a gigabit Internet connection. This blog post is a preliminary peek into our research.

The Inclusive Gigabit Libraries project asks “How can libraries, as anchor institutions, leverage high speed networks and applications to benefit communities?” With a high-speed network, libraries create opportunities for 21st century learning, discovery and co-invention.

We looked specifically at libraries that are on networks that are part of US Ignite or other gigabit-speed networks. US Ignite is an initiative of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to jumpstart the development and testing of new broadband applications that serve critical public needs.

Case study libraries in this blog include Cuyahoga County Public Library (in Ohio), Chattanooga Public Library (in Tennessee), and Kansas City Public Library (in Missouri). Each is providing public access to their high-speed bandwidth and experimenting with how to meet the needs of their communities now and into the future.  We will present additional case studies of the CENIC Network in California and the VideoMosaic Project at Rutgers University in future blogs.

Cuyahoga County Public Library

Recording studio in use at the Cuyahoga County Public Library

Recording studio in use at the Cuyahoga County Public Library

All Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) branches larger than 10,000 square feet will have a full synchronous gigabit in April 2014 from AT&T via OARnet.  One branch, Warrensville Heights, currently has a full gigabit (from OneCommunity), and the other branches currently have 600Mbps. Prior to their increased bandwidth, the Internet usage at multiple branches was so high that CCPL had to manage access, including targeting ideal times for programming to take place and reducing public bandwidth access during high usage. Now, network slowdowns are a headache of the past. Most of CCPL’s 509 public access computers are in continual use, and the library is looking to its gigabit connection to reduce costs by switching its phone service to Voice over IP (VoIP). CCPL also is beginning to think of and promote access to the gigabit as a service itself.

Staff are encouraged to suggest new programming and form new partnerships. Branch directors attend city council meetings, school board meetings and Chamber of Commerce events. Matching this culture of local engagement with a hefty dose of bandwidth is bringing technology innovation aligned to community needs. New service offerings include the CCPL’s Warrensville branch recording studio where users of the booth can easily download, upload and edit video and audio files. Multiple branches offer robotics and game design programs for youth. CCPL also is experimenting with using video conferencing for informal and formal education between branches and with community partners.

“The mission of the Cuyahoga County Public Library is to be at the center of community life by providing an environment where reading, life-long learning and civic engagement thrive. That environment has to include high speed broadband and skilled staff,” said CCPL Director Sari Feldman.

Chattanooga Public Library

Maggie discovers 3D printing at the Chattanooga Public Library

Maggie discovers 3D printing at the Chattanooga Public Library

For the Chattanooga Public Library, a gigabit broadband connection is one essential tool in their efforts to create a library structure that is flexible enough to meet the library’s mission to be the community’s catalyst for lifelong learning.

Chattanooga Public Library has been called the library of the future by many (including National Journal). The designation is not solely a result of their gigabit connection but rather their culture of experimentation and innovation. Chattanooga Public Library’s 4th Floor is what Nate Hill, assistant director, refers to as a “civic laboratory, makerspace and hackerspace.” The space is home to 3D printers and a variety of tech tools deployed in ways that are always changing. It is currently being used for both library and partner-organized programming and as a co-working space. The library is experimenting with and planning use of RFID, video conferencing, sharing 3D files (which can be 20MB or more) and creating a portal for local open government data.

“(The library) is a place for people to experiment, especially when you get these young folks that are building stuff and they need a collaborative space to work and they need the speed,” said Director Corinne Hill. “I think high-speed broadband is one of these things that you don’t realize is important. It’s like the smartphone—no one knew that you couldn’t live without this until you got it. The library is going to level the playing ground for folks.”

Chattanooga’s Internet Service provider is EPB, a municipal power company. The downtown building has a gigabit connection, and the internal infrastructure on each floor is being upgraded to utilize the bandwidth. Each of the library’s three branches also will have gigabit connections in the near future.

Kansas City Public Library

As the rollout of Google Fiber continues in Kansas City, the Kansas City Public Library and the Kansas City Kansas Public Library are (eagerly) awaiting gigabit Internet connections. Google Fiber’s rollout model is based upon what they call fiberhoods. Construction occurs first to residential customers in each fiberhood that has reached a certain percentage of pre-registrations. Each city government provided Google with a list of community buildings to receive a gigabit connection free for a minimum of 10 years. All of the library branches in the two cities will receive free Internet service. Branches outside of the municipalities will not receive the gigabit connection. These Community Connections are the last to be connected in the fiberhoods.

The rollout of Google Fiber in Kansas City has drawn renewed attention to digital inclusion issues. Libraries and other community anchor institutions have increased their focus on the digital divide, resulting in increased collaborations. “In a way,” says KCPL Director Crosby Kemper, “Google Fiber has been a catalyst to do some things that we probably should have been doing anyway with traditional broadband. We, as a community, are now more aware of the digital divide. We are now more aware of the possibilities in education, distance learning and virtual learning.”

KCPL is setting the stage for when they have gigabit connections. Because Google Fiber does not have a commercial offering and is not being rolled out to every neighborhood, KCPL anticipates the need for public access (both hardline and wireless) to increase. To accommodate small business owners and entrepreneurs who might not be connected, KCPL intends to expand their small business center. They also are testing a software lending library to provide remote access to popular software.

Once available, the increased bandwidth in the library and the community will remove limitations on the use of digitized content. For example, KCPL will now be able to include more videos in local offerings, and the library is working with a local foundation and other community organizations to consider creating physical spaces for MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) students and development of local MOOCs.

The two public libraries, schools, a community college and multiple non-profits have formed a digital divide coalition to coordinate access and training services, create a cohesive plan, and draw up a strategy for fundraising.

This word cloud was created from the February 2014 interview transcripts with library leadership at Cuyahoga County Public Library, Chattanooga Public Library and Kansas City Public Library

This word cloud was created from the February 2014 interview transcripts with library leadership at Cuyahoga County Public Library, Chattanooga Public Library and Kansas City Public Library.


This article is only a preliminary sharing of what we have learned, but one emerging theme is the opportunity for libraries to leverage next-generation networks to increase community partnerships and problem-solving. As we complete our analysis, we’ll continue to release articles, ultimately publishing full case studies this spring.

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

South by Southwest Interactive rocked my world

Image via Paul Vinelli

Image via Paul Vinelli

ALA OITP’s new Policy Revolution! initiative recently led me to the South by Southwest (SXSW) 2014 Interactive conference, along with an invitation to speak and opportunity to staff a busy SXSW library booth. The Policy Revolution! project expands and deepens ALA and library engagement with influential audiences to advance our work for the public good. So I felt vindicated that, when I returned to DC, I was entirely convinced SXSW is a key place for ALA and libraries to be outspoken and visible

Library and Entrepreneurial Partnerships

From keynote Edward Snowden to panelists who received less press coverage this year, we heard that tech start-ups need to consider information and technology policy issues. Even if “politics” is an ugly word to many, we were exhorted that tech firms had a responsibility, as well as self-interest, to not let others decide the future of the Internet, information access and security. In fact, it was a refrain at Innovation Policy Day: If you’re not at the table, you’re likely on the menu. The same is true for libraries and librarians.

Among the people at the table at SXSW were Janie Hermann from Princeton Public Library and Venu Moola, founder and CEO of Fleet Studio. They were there to “to preach the gospel of libraries supporting start-ups.” Moola approached the library after his call to create a Princeton Tech Meetup in Central New Jersey exceeded his expectations—and space at neighborhood coffee shops and bars. Over two years, the library has hosted 23 meet-ups and 12 special events, including connecting NJ entrepreneurs with the West Coast Lean Startup Conference via livestream. The meet-up now has more than 2,000 members, and is the second largest in the state. Princeton Public Library also is beginning to explore small-group co-working. Other librarians in the audience mentioned partnerships with SCORE, business consultants on staff at Pioneer Library System in Oklahoma, and available digital resources like ReferenceUSA.

One of the best things: it was the entrepreneurs in the room who said that libraries’ most important asset is our librarians. Wow! I wasn’t the only one who left the room a convert. An Austin entrepreneur and public library manager connected in the room and made plans for next steps. These are the kinds of advocates we need by our sides to amplify the value of libraries in our communities; and the kinds of partnerships we will foster as part of our Policy Revolution! We’d love to hear from other libraries working to connect with and support new business start-ups. Email us your story!

Library Policy and Technology

Larra Clark w/Tina Coleman at SXSW

Larra Clark w/Tina Coleman at SXSW

Policy and practice intersected at the Building the Future with Gigabit Apps session. Even among techies, Will Barkis, director of the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund, noted that he is asked “what’s a gig good for?” He answered the question with real-life examples, including the software lending library launching through the Kansas City (Mo) Public Library. Other favorites on his list included: Cizzle, in which users can experience and modify 3D environments; PlanIT impact, in which people can participate in community decision-making with big data visualizations and 3D; and the more pedestrian, but important, aspect of file transfer and streaming for large files like radiology.

What could a library do with a Gig? This is an urgent question as we consider the future of the federal E-rate program, and ALA argues for the high-capacity broadband needed to meet community demand today and in coming years. Building gigabit capacity can not only enable innovation and new community partnerships, but also provide efficiencies as we “build once” and upgrade capacity as needed. Starting this week, ALA OITP will share lessons learned from “gigabit libraries” through research conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The policy conversations on tap were wide and deep, including privacy and security, copyright and fair use, and network neutrality, to name a few. It was my pleasure to participate in Innovation Policy Day, which brought many of these issues together in a full day of panels with speakers ranging from Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association; Laurent Crenshaw, public policy manager of Yelp; to Rick Whitt, global head of public policy and government relations for Motorola Mobility. While the Internet of Things is still in relatively early stages, there is no doubt in my mind that the trend will roll over all of us (including library automation and public services) like a tsunami in coming years. The decisions the Federal Communications Commission makes in upcoming proceedings related to unlicensed spectrum, including TV White Space, will have long-term impacts for our economy and innovation.

Libraries need to be on the “ground floor” of these conversations with technology companies to influence policy perspectives, change perceptions of what’s possible through library partnerships, get a head start on emerging trends and build a bridge for engagement and adoption among our communities of users.

It was a great experience shared with many librarians like former OITP committee chair (and current committee member) Bonnie Tijerina, who co-hosted the #IDEA Drop House with her sister Sandy Tijerina, and ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Barbara Jones (who’s also working up some blog posts detailing her impressions). We’re all going to keep talking and looking for ways to connect ALA, librarians and SXSW, so expect to hear more soon. Until then, check out American Libraries blog posts, like this one and this one, from other outstanding librarians on the (literal) scene.

And, finally, a big thanks to Innovative Interfaces for making the library booth at SXSWi possible!

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Posted in Events, OITP, Washington Office News

How accessible is online government information?

A Georgia librarian uses Lib2Gov to help patrons access online government information.

A library patron seeks immigration information for her husband.

The article below comes from guest blogger Pat Ball, who serves as the branch manager of the Cobb County Public Library System in Marietta, Georgia.

The E-Government Act was passed in December of 2002. On November 7, 2007 the E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007 was introduced. The bill would amend and reauthorize appropriations for the E-Government Act.   Needless to say this reauthorization never happened. Nonetheless the original mandate has not ended. More and more government is going online and the public is required to interact with government through these means.

E-government means different things to different people. For some it is submitting a form online and for others it may mean sending an email message to their Member of Congress or otherwise interacting with government online. E-government as defined by the Government encompasses both e-government and e-government services and is below:

“The use by the Government of web-based Internet applications and other information technologies, combined with processes that implement these technologies, to 1. Enhance the access to and delivery of Government information and services to the public, other agencies, and other Government entities; or to bring about improvements in Government operations that may include effectiveness, efficiency, service quality, or transformation. ” (CRS Report 2008).

For the purposes of this discussion I am focusing on e-government services and utilizing the definition as developed by the E-Government Services Committee a subcommittee of ALA’s Committee on Legislation.

E-Government services is defined as the use of technology, particularly the Internet, as a means to deliver government services and to facilitate the interaction of the public with government entities. (Adopted by the COL E-Government Services Subcommittee, May 2008)

Libraries have been offering government Services for many years. We have long provided tax information for both state and federal levels. Libraries also provide applications for student financial, SAT, ACT and the list goes on. It became e-government as information migrated online. New to this array of services online are the many social services and benefits applications that have also migrated online. In some instances some are available online exclusively.   Picking up a paper form from the library required no extra skills. Accessing information online requires a skill set other than walking or driving to the library. This has presented a challenge for many in particular those who are in need of   e-government  services the most.

Most libraries first encounter with e-government services was during the Medicare B sign up which brought a larger number of seniors to the library for help. At that time we had not identified it as an unfunded mandate. Nor could we forsee the many other services that librarians would be required to assist with unfunded and unsupported by state, federal and local governments. The library, one of the most trusted institutions in the nation had also become the central community center for computer access. Most front line librarians had no knowledge and were usually unaware of government referrals and reliance on them for e-government services.  One of my first encounters with government referrals to libraries was some years ago the state of Georgia required all truck drivers to renew their license online. They came to the library in droves and many at different levels on the digital literacy spectrum.   Some were totally dependent on the library for the entire process and others had no problem at all accomplishing this task online.  It provided a real lesson on what is required to interact online with government services:  basic literacy skills, email address that you can remember,  important documents, social security number,  work history, medical history, etc. It took three days for me to help one patron get his license renewed.  We got all the way to the end of the application to find out he needed an email address or we forgot to write down his license number and so we would have to start the process all over again.   There were valuable lessons learned from the experience.

Today the government clearly calls on libraries to assist as with President Obama’s message to libraries at ALA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago for assistance with helping Americans sign up for Affordable Health Care. We have come a long way,  someone has heard our cry in the wilderness of government. Funding was provided to IMLS for training for librarians for the Affordable Care Act. However, this training provided no funding for front line library staff.

The library has earned the reputation as a trusted and safe entity within the community. We provide equal access to our communities with no expectations or motives other than empowerment.    It has become an expectation of the community as well as the government:  local, state and federal.

Digital literacy skills are becoming more and more important. This year for first time, the state of Georgia did not send or print paper tax forms for citizens; it all migrated online. Working at McDonald’s or CVS require no digital skills but if you want to work at either you have to know how to first find the right application online and then have the necessary digital  skills to navigate and fill out the application. It is amazing in observing those who access public computing in libraries that many can navigate through Face book but cannot use any other digital tools.

Recently a friend whose mother has always been totally independent needed to renew various government benefits. This was usually done through regular mail and phone interviews. However this year she was told to do it online and if she did not have a computer at home to visit her local library for help.   My friend’s mother can’t navigate through how to use a cell phone, much less figuring out without extensive one on one help how to renew benefits online.

E-government services   are an unfunded mandate for libraries but as always we rise to meet the challenge of empowering our communities. This does not mean we should stop lobbying for money to support such services but we need to use it as a bargaining chip to demand more funds. In our communities we still have those who don’t have the digital skills to interact online with government. How can we best empower this population? There are many ways we can ensure that the disenfranchised have equal access to government information and services.

Libraries should assess the need level for e-government services within their communities.  Not all libraries will need to provide for the same level of e-government services.  In those communities where digital literacy and the lack of home access to a computer are most prevalent, services and programs should be designed to meet the needs of those communities. If necessary,  where needed libraries should provide the opportunity for patrons to make an appointment for a one on one with a professional librarian. This should be in addition to our regular reference services and point of access at public computers. Librarians working with patrons at various levels should be able to assess the digital skill levels of those accessing public computing and they should be able to refer those in need of help to where they can get the help they need to interact in a timely manner with government.

Seifert, J. W. Reauthorization of the E-Government Act: A “Brief Overview. CRS Report (May, 2008). (accessed May 24, 2010)

Bertot, J.C., McClure, C.R., Thomas, S., Barton, K.M., & McGilvray, J. Public Libraries and the Internet 2007: Study Results and Findings (July 2007). Tallahassee, FL: Information Use Management and Policy Institute. http://www.ii.fsu.edu/content/view/full/15164 (accessed June 2, 2010)

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Posted in Government Information, OGR, Public Libraries

Federal librarian positions open

Two D.C.-based federal librarian positions opened this week. The application period for both positions spans Thursday, March 20, 2014 to Wednesday, April 02, 2014. One position is for the merit staffing announcement and the other is for external candidates.

More information:

Reference Librarian

Department Of Labor
Job Announcement Numbers: MS-14-HRC-BOC-106 and DE-14-HRC-BOC-106

  • Provides comprehensive reference, research, advisory public services and instructional services to mission related requirements to Department of Labor and other authorized users.
  • Serves as system administrator for the specialized CD-ROM database in the library and communicates with vendors, contractors, and automation personnel for hardware and software maintenance and updates.
  • Monitors library technicians.

Learn more about the positions on USAJobs.

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Posted in OGR

IAL Grant Applications to be Released this Summer

The U.S. Department of Education released this week that they will possibly release application information for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program in June with a deadline of July 18, 2014.  Please check back later for more information.  In the mean time you can check out the Department’s time table on this grant and others here.

Posted in Library Advocacy


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