There’s a lot for libraries and IMLS to love in the Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan, released March 16th by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Threaded through the hefty document is the FCC’s recognition of libraries as community anchor institutions that can help provide high-capacity broadband connections and build digital literacy skills of people in communities across the nation.
The broadband plan, which sets an ambitious agenda for connecting all parts of the nation, is "our generation’s infrastructure challenge," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. "It is as important as electricity and highways were for past generations." Libraries, which have already traveled a long way down the road to meet these challenges, stand ready to do more.
According to the broadband plan, the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) – which spells out how state libraries spend federal funding – has helped libraries improve technology, engage the public, and establish new models for serving their communities. In recognition of the role played by libraries and IMLS, which supports these efforts, the broadband plan recommends that IMLS
- develop guidelines for public access technology based on populations served and organization size;
- play a key role in the new National Digital Literacy Program that creates a Digital Literacy Corps, increases the capacity of digital literacy partners, and creates an Online Digital Literacy Portal; and
- help organizations get the training they need to help patrons use next-generation e-government applications.
The FCC’s confidence in libraries is borne out in a recent report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries. Nearly 77 million people – or one-third of Americans over the age of 14 – have used public library computers or wireless networks to go online at some point. Some 40 percent of library computer users sought help with career needs and 37 percent looked for information about health issues, according to this recent study by the University of Washington Information School with funding from IMLS and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
While this study demonstrates that library technology creates opportunities for millions, it also highlights what is at risk if future public and private investment doesn’t keep pace with demand. Library service makes it possible for Americans to find work, get an education, and make good decisions about their health. At a time when access to technology and the Internet is becoming a necessary resource for full participation in society, public libraries provide an especially vital service to households in need.
- Marsha L. Semmel, Acting Director, IMLS
About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.imls.gov.