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Maine State Librarian touts E-rate successes at Congressional hearing

Maine State Librarian Linda Lord
Maine State Librarian Linda Lord

Today, Maine State Librarian Linda Lord called for a “proactive vision for meeting the educational and learning needs of our communities for the next 15 years and beyond” at a U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing (video). Representing our nation’s 16,400 public libraries, Lord touted the success of the E-Rate program in helping connect nearly 100 percent of libraries to serve more than 30 million people every week.

“I’m old enough to remember when it took 20 minutes to establish a dial-up connection,” Lord told Congress (read full testimony (pdf)). “Clearly we are in a different place today. So are our libraries. In 1998, I could not have envisioned the programs libraries offer today. For instance, we are using interactive videoconferencing technology to connect rural Mainers with volunteer attorneys. One library serving a population of about 1,200 hosted elementary students to view a real-time program on flight from the Smithsonian. This would not have been possible even five years ago.”

Watch Lord’s testimony from the hearing “E-Rate 2.0: Connecting Every Child to the Transformative Power of Technology:”

While appreciative of the progress that has been made in her state–and in how libraries across the country meet community needs–Lord cautioned that simply connecting libraries and schools is not enough to serve our students and families today.

“We need high-speed, reliable connections like the one at the Omaha Public Library that ensured one patron could Skype into three interviews with Boeing before being offered a job. We also need upload capabilities that rival download speeds for small businesses to upload large packets of information into the cloud.”

The hearing, “E-Rate 2.0: Connecting Every Child to the Transformative Power of Technology,” comes just days before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to modernize the E-rate program to support high-speed broadband for digital learning technologies and ensure all students, educators and library patrons have the tools they need to success in the 21st Century. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is the oversight committee for the FCC.

“Whether you are a school librarian–as both Linda Lord and I have been–or a public librarian, you know that your internet infrastructure can either enable or stifle innovation for our nation’s 55 million K12 students, more than 1.5 million home-school students and millions more pursuing their GED or distance learning,” said American Library Association (ALA) President Barbara Stripling. “We simply cannot allow inadequate bandwidth to be the limiting factor for what our students and our nation can achieve. E-rate is fundamental to meeting this challenge.”

According to a 2013 Pew Internet Project report, the availability of computers and internet access now rivals book lending and reference expertise as vital library services. Seventy-seven percent of Americans say free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries, compared with 80 percent who say borrowing books and access to reference librarians are “very important” services.

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Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright is a former press officer of the Washington Office.

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