The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced two grants totaling $6.9 million for a pilot initiative designed to help public libraries in seven states secure faster Internet connections.
By improving Internet connections for public libraries in Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and Virginia, the new initiative will enable more people to access information and educational and economic opportunities. Connected Nation, a Washington, D.C.-based broadband Internet advocacy group, will receive $6.1 million to help each pilot state organize and host a broadband summit designed to encourage public library leaders, state and local officials, and other "influentials" to support broadband Internet at libraries in each state.
In addition, the D.C.-based American Library Association's Office for Information Technology Policy will receive $851,889 to help state library agencies develop and implement strategies to make sure the broadband connectivity is sustainable. OITP also will work to develop and disseminate case studies demonstrating how public libraries can successfully sustain broadband for patrons.
As the U.S. recession deepens, visits to public libraries are up across the country and online services remain in high demand, especially among job seekers, students, and people who have no other access to the Internet.
"Through this pilot program, we will help to ensure that...all people have the chance to connect to information, education, and economic opportunity," said Jill Nishi, the Gates Foundation's deputy director of U.S. libraries. "Public libraries across the country have played an integral role in closing the digital divide for millions of Americans, but local governments, communities, and library supporters must do more to ensure libraries can continue to provide fast, reliable Internet service for communities."