DATE: March 12, 2008
Libraries are Leading the Way to Internet Access
Follow the Blue Lights to the Fastest Internet Connection in Town
Robertson Memorial Library in Leyden proudly displays its satellite which allows for a high-speed Internet connection.
Dial-up Internet access is a thing of the past for most of us. High-speed connections allow us to jump from site to site, open pictures, apply for jobs, download forms and documents, use electronic databases provided by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), and conduct business on-line without giving a second thought to how time-consuming and frustrating dial-up access was. But for many residents in Western Massachusetts, dial-up access is the only option for Internet access. That is, until the region's library system decided to do something about it.
In 2007, Western Massachusetts Regional Library System (WMRLS) undertook a major project to provide libraries in 25 communities with connections that were faster, more reliable and more robust than dial-up. WMRLS was able to secure state and federal funds from the MBLC to pay for this ambitious project. Libraries were also outfitted with wireless connections so that people who own devices that come with wireless capability can finally use them by tapping into the library's wireless connection.
"If you drive past several of the libraries in the evenings, you are likely to see little blue lights flickering outside the building, either in cars, on the library's steps or on picnic tables purchased for public use. Those lights are people, including businesspeople, from these towns making use of their library's wireless Internet connection, even when the library itself is closed! They're using the only decent connection in town,"stated John Ramsay, WMRLS Regional Administrator.
Egremont Free Public Library is one of 25 libraries in Western Mass. that offer high-speed Internet in an area where dial-up is still the norm.
WMRLS Technology Coordinator Wes Hamilton and WMRLS Business Manager Anne Thibault worked with the libraries and MBLC Library Information Systems Specialist Paul Kissman to make this project a reality.
Hamilton conducted site visits, designed and installed equipment to provide wireless capabilities and network security for the libraries, while establishing or extending the local area network infrastructure. Regional vendors providing satellite installation and support include Charlemont TV and Granby TV. WMRLS was also able to obtain funding from a variety of sources so that the libraries would have at least one modern computer workstation to take full advantage of the newfound connectivity. Some of this funding was possible from a $6,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, and another contribution from the Greylock Federal Credit Union.
The libraries that now enjoy no-cost connectivity from this project include:
Berkshire County: Becket, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Monterey, New Marlborough, Otis, Peru, Sandisfield, South Egremont, and Tyringham
Franklin County: Ashfield, Leyden, and Rowe
Hampden County: Blandford, Montgomery, Russell, and Tolland
Hampshire County: Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Middlefield, Plainfield, and Worthington Worcester County: New Braintree and Royalston
Ramsay cautions that while this success may be heartwarming, "it is also infuriating to understand how the development of the state's technology infrastructure has left behind so many communities and their taxpayers." While the connectivity at these 25 libraries is now better than it was, it will soon be rendered inadequate in light of future demand for more and more content, licensed databases and media being delivered over the Internet.
Governor Patrick's Broadband Initiative, H4311, gives Ramsay hope. This bill will create and fund the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, which will make strategic and targeted public investments with the objective of providing high-speed Internet, or broadband, service to all currently un-served communities by 2010. "The libraries and people of Western Massachusetts need to have access to the affordable and full-powered connectivity taken for granted everywhere else in the Commonwealth," says Ramsay. "Fair is fair."
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.