US Public Libraries and BTOP: A New Report from ALA

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) created the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP ) to increase broadband access and adoption in the US. State and public libraries have been critical partners in many of these projects. This May 2013 report from American Library Association (ALA) looks at library projects around the country, exploring the impact on communities.

ALA estimates about 20 percent of U.S. public libraries have benefited from BTOP funding. The report describes library projects in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

BTOP focuses not only on making sure libraries have adequate bandwidth, but also on the importance of digital literacy: 

“There is an emerging understanding that access to technology is only a part of the solution needed to ensure digital inclusion and empowerment. Increasing digital skills and competencies make up the rest of this equation.”

The report emphasizes the ways in which the digital efforts of libraries are meeting needs and increasing opportunities in the communities in which they are located. Partnerships are emphasized both as a way to increase impact and as a way to make things happen. 

Here are a few highlights from the report:

  • Nebraska The Nebraska Library Commission has upgraded broadband connections in 101 libraries so far with the average speed moving from 2.9 Mbps to 21.4 Mbps.
  • Alaska The Alaska Online with Libraries (OWL) project is bringing videoconferencing equipment and services to all of its libraries. 
  • New Jersey The New Jersey State Library has collaborated with the New Jersey Community College Consortium (NJCCC) to deliver over 1,000 job readiness computer skills workshops. 
  • New York The New York State Library Broadbandexpress@yourlibrary project created public access computer and teleconferencing centers in 30 libraries in economically distressed communities, and put five broadband-equipped “e-Mobile” computing training units on the road to rural locations and underserved communities.
  • Colorado More than 367,000 Coloradans increased their digital literacy skills through that state’s BTOP project.
  • Idaho  The Idaho Commission for Libraries worked with the Idaho Department of Labor’s Youth Corps program to train low-income and/or high-risk youth to serve as Digital Literacy Coaches in libraries.
  • Vermont  The Vermont Department of Libraries and the Vermont State Colleges created an Internet Interns program, which provides student interns for one-on-one assistance for patrons.
  • Maine The Maine State Library works with the Volunteer Lawyers Project to provide legal information clinics through new library videoconferencing technology.