DATE: May 04, 2009
Bridging the Digital Divide
Boston, MA: Seventy percent of people who use their public library’s computers report that this is their primary connection to the Internet. Yet nearly one-fourth of Massachusetts public libraries lack the connectivity necessary to perform online functions like taking an interactive, online educational course with streaming video or audio and reading a basic Web site for instructive content; or downloading lengthy government applications in seconds versus struggling with freezing or intermittent connections to access a basic government Web site.
Over the last two days, more than 200 library leaders, community partners, broadband providers and local and state leaders committed to improving connectivity in the state joined the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) to examine the benefits of high-speed Internet connectivity in Massachusetts public libraries and explore new solutions to improve and sustain library connectivity.
In Massachusetts there are 32 towns unserved by broadband providers - 31 of those are in western Massachusetts. There are 63 towns with only partial broadband.
“This is an economic issue,” said Robert C. Maier, Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Those who have broadband can do business online, apply for jobs, or simply explore new interests. Access to the broadband Internet provides equity, hope and opportunity. Without access to high-speed Internet a businesses can’t compete and residents are at a disadvantage on many levels.”
The summit included a comprehensive look at the state of broadband access across the commonwealth including recognition of pockets of unserved broadband areas across the state. Participants at the summit included numerous library representatives in addition to local and state leaders who are committed to improved connectivity. Sharon Gillett, director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, discussed the organization’s partnership with the state to improve connectivity for communities.
“We are pleased to work with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to enhance and expand broadband Internet service in libraries throughout the Commonwealth,” said Gillett. “With strong leadership from Governor Patrick, Massachusetts is now well positioned to bridge the digital divide by increasing access to broadband in cities and towns across the state. Libraries will play an important role in our efforts to expand the educational benefits that result from enhanced broadband connectivity.”
Today, Massachusetts library patrons are using technology in innovative ways to find new opportunities and improve their lives. As the country’s economic downturn continues, online resources at libraries have become especially critical for those that lack access elsewhere. For example, the Whitman Public Library in southeastern Massachusetts offers online workshops to help people improve their job skills and find employment. However, connectivity is essential to connect job seekers to available employment, like restaurants and stores who accept job applications strictly online.
Programs in other communities focus on building important educational and social opportunities for communities. A student reading group at the Duxbury Library conferences online with students in Kalamazoo, Michigan about book manuscripts being reviewed by the groups. The Cambridge Square Public Library is a lifeline to newcomers to the country who use computers and the Internet at the library to stay connected to their families in their home country and learn more about services offered by government and social resources.
MBLC has been invited by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to participate in its pilot Opportunity Online broadband grant program to help ensure all libraries in the state can achieve and sustain broadband Internet connections. Eighty library systems in Massachusetts are eligible to receive grants through this program. Building on dialogue and ideas generated at the summit, MBLC will work with an advisory group including library advocates, municipal representatives and state leaders to develop a plan to increase and sustain broadband connections in all Massachusetts public libraries.
“The summit highlighted the vital role libraries play in connecting communities to information and knowledge through technology.” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “What is needed now, is long-term collaboration among government, business, community, and library leaders to ensure that public libraries can continue to provide the high-speed Internet access their patrons need to improve their lives and thrive.”
Dr. Jerry Mechling of the Kennedy Harvard School served as the keynote at the summit. The Massachusetts Opportunity Online Broadband Summit included in-depth discussion about possible connectivity solutions and next steps, lead by Maureen Sullivan, a leading educator and facilitator among the library community. For more information about the Massachusetts Opportunity Online Summit, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-866-882-3081.
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Learn more at www.gatesfoundation.org.
About Connected Nation: Connected Nation is a national non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that expands access to and use of broadband Internet and the related technologies that are enabled when individuals and communities have the opportunity and desire to connect. Connected Nation effectively raises the awareness of the value of broadband and related technologies by developing coalitions of influencers and enablers for technology deployment and adoption. Connected Nation works with community stakeholders, states and technology providers to develop and implement technology expansion programs with core competencies centered around a mission to improve digital inclusion for people and places previously underserved or overlooked. For more information about Connected Nation, Inc., visit www.connectednation.org.
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.