The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced $8.1 million in grants to upgrade computer hardware in public libraries serving communities with high concentrations of poverty and at risk of having outdated technology.
Awarded through the foundation's Opportunity Online program, the grants will be administered by the Bibliographical Center for Research, NELINET, PALINET, the Southeastern Library Network, and the Library of Virginia, which together will consider more than eight hundred library branches in Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington for grants.
Because 80 percent of public library funding comes from local sources, the grants require participating libraries to secure a local match, preferably in the form of a local government commitment, to demonstrate that they can sustain investments in technology. Local commitments nationwide are expected to total $4.1 million. In addition, librarians participating in the program will be required to attend a professional development conference to help them build the skills and confidence they need to raise awareness of the value of their libraries and to increase local support.
"In today's economy, it is critical that people have equal access to the information and knowledge that are available online," said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the foundation's U.S. Libraries initiative. "Nearly all public libraries in the United States provide this access, but many struggle to keep pace with advancing technology and rapidly increasing community demand for these services. Communities must commit the local resources necessary to ensure all people have opportunities to benefit from technology."