December 28, 2004
Director, Communications & Public Information
Massachusetts Awarded Grant to Sustain Public Access Computing in Libraries
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invests $204,800 to help ensure the public continues to have free access to technology and the Internet in public libraries
Boston - The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) announced that it has received a $204,800 Staying Connected challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help public libraries continue to provide no-cost access to computers and the Internet for the public. The MBLC will use the Staying Connected funds to sustain and improve broadband connectivity in local public libraries.
"Public libraries play a vital role in bridging the digital divide for those who do not have access to computers and the Internet. Today, because of the hard work of librarians across the country, if you can get to the library, you can get to the Internet," said Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "The challenge now is to help public libraries 'stay connected.' Sustaining public access computing will require continued support from local communities."
Research conducted by the University of Washington's Public Access Computing Project shows that people with lower income and education levels are more likely to rely on the library for their only access to computers and the Internet. While computer and Internet use has grown among all populations in recent years, income and socioeconomic status remain key indicators of access to these technologies.
There is significant public support for sustaining access to computers and the Internet in libraries. According to a recent study conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, Americans believe that providing computers for public use is one of the three most important things their library can do.
"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's investments and the ongoing support of government agencies, other foundations, businesses and individuals have made a tremendous difference in our state's libraries," said Robert C. Maier, MBLC Director. "When we all come together to expand public access computing, everyone can explore the universe of knowledge, businesses can expand and communities can thrive."
In addition to the Staying Connected grants, the foundation is working with Libraries for the Future to strengthen librarians' capacities for community outreach and supports WebJunction, a Web-based service that gives librarians and others an online platform to share knowledge and experience in providing technology to patrons.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to promote greater equity in four areas: global health, education, public libraries, and support for at-risk families in Washington state and Oregon. The Seattle-based foundation joins local, national, and international partners to ensure that advances in these areas reach those who need them most. The foundation is led by Bill Gates's father, William H. Gates Sr., and Patty Stonesifer.
The Board of Library Commissioners (mass.gov/mblc) is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.