Categorized | Education, News

Libraries seeking Gates Foundation grant

MEDIA RELEASE

The Hawaii State Public Library System is eligible for a $581,907 Opportunity Online hardware grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help provide free, high-quality access to computer workstations in public libraries.  

The two-year Opportunity Online hardware grants program will provide funding to replace, and in some cases add, up to 373 public computer workstations in libraries, as well as for associated training and tech support.  

The program is focused on helping libraries serving populations most in need and which are vulnerable to having their technology services become obsolete.  

Eligible libraries must obtain local funding commitments that demonstrate community support for maintaining computer upgrades.

With almost 40 percent of Americans still lacking Internet access at home, libraries are a critical link to technology for many who cannot afford the service on their own.  

Millions of Americans use computers and the Internet at public libraries to earn long-distance learning degrees, start and advance small businesses, find critical health information on jobs, learn English, get e-government information, and more. 

“Computer and Internet access have become essential services that our patrons demand” said Richard Burns, state librarian. “It is critical that we have the resources necessary to properly maintain these technology tools so that our libraries can help all people in Hawaii access the information they need to thrive and contribute fully to our community.”

While nearly 100 percent of U.S. public libraries now offer free computer and Internet services, many struggle to maintain them as budget cuts threaten to reduce operating hours, limit access to staff training and technical support, and make it difficult to keep pace with new technologies.  

Locally, infrastructure for HSPLS’ 51 branches is inadequate to support the growing Internet demand. The average Hawaii public library has a 256 KBPS connection to the network and the Internet.  

At present, libraries are unable to support bandwidth traffic such as MP3 (video and sound files), video-streaming (news video clips), and interactive communication.

“It is virtually impossible to succeed today without access to computers and the Internet,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the U.S. Libraries Initiative at the Gates Foundation.  “Fast, reliable online access can open a world of economic, educational, and social opportunities. It is imperative that all communities acknowledge the role our libraries play in providing this service and give libraries the support they need to continue providing critical technology tools long into the future.”

Opportunity Online hardware grants are expected to be the last grants given by the foundation to fund computer upgrades in U.S. public libraries with vulnerable technology, but the foundation continues to support libraries through investments in Internet connectivity, research, training, and advocacy.

The Friends of the Library of Hawaii, non-profit tax-exempt organization that promotes public libraries, will play a leading role in providing one-third of the local match funds, or about $387,893 required by the grant program.  

From Byrde Cestare, executive director of the Friends: “We are thankful for this partnership with the Gates Foundation. Funding provided by this grant will dramatically improve computer access at public libraries and provide the technology required to meet the growing needs of our communities.”

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, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and co-chairman William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

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