DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities

Expanding access to technology and digital skills training for rural communities

About DigitalLead

The Public Library Association (PLA) and Microsoft Corp. will increase digital skills programming and access to technology in rural communities. Through $400,000 donated by Microsoft Philanthropies, PLA will provide hardware and digital skills training and resources to rural libraries, helping rural populations reap the benefits of broadband internet connectivity. PLA’s program, DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities, will accept applications from public libraries in select rural counties to help them to establish mobile hotspot lending programs and to initiate or expand digital skills training programs and patron access to computers.

Why PLA and Microsoft are Working Together

According to a recent Microsoft study, 162.8 million people do not use the internet at broadband speeds, and almost 66 million people have low levels of digital readiness, according to the American Library Association. Libraries provide essential services to populations most affected by these challenges, particularly rural and low-income communities.

Rural libraries are critical for communities to achieve digital access and skills and the resultant employment, economic, educational, and health benefits, often providing the only free access to computers, the Internet, and training in their regions. Yet our many small and rural libraries (more than one-third, or 6,400, of all U.S. public library buildings are considered “rural”) are challenged by limited staff and facilities, with a median of 1.9 full-time equivalent employees and about 2,500 square feet. These libraries are challenged to provide their staff with continuing education training due to cost, time, and geography; have less access to dedicated information technology and tools; and have fewer technical services staff than many other libraries.

Microsoft Philanthropies works to advance the company’s mission by partnering with nonprofits and local governments to make opportunities in the digital economy accessible to all people. In addition, Microsoft is closing the broadband gap through the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which works to provide broadband access to underserved communities. In conjunction with the Airband initiative and partnerships with other national organizations including FFA and 4-H, Microsoft’s support of PLA will help bridge these access and skills gap.

What DigitalLead Will Do

At least 50 libraries will be approved to receive new computers and other hardware, training, and more. Libraries nationwide will benefit from the training and tools created and collected by the project and released for use by PLA members and others.

The first application period will open in June 2019 and close in late summer, dates to be determined. At least 50 awards will be made to libraries in September 2019. PLA anticipates providing the following packages and services to at least 25 libraries each.

  • Mobile Hotspot Lending Programs: Libraries will receive hardware and other tools to create mobile hotspot lending programs for their communities. Libraries who apply should be intending to start or significantly expand their hotspot lending programs. Applicants can request 2–11 hotspot devices and will receive the devices, support for installation, data subscriptions for the devices, helpdesk support from TechSoup, and materials to help implement the new library services, such as model policies and community communication tools.
  • Public Access and Training Computers: Libraries will receive desktops, all-in-ones, and/or laptops for public use, with specific intent to create new or enhanced digital literacy training programs at libraries. Successful applicants will demonstrate and a need and a solid plan for making computers available for patron use and for using them to conduct digital literacy skills training. The number of computers available to each library will vary based on the application and desired types of machines (basic/budget, intermediate, or advanced). In addition to hardware, awardees will receive support for installation, helpdesk support from TechSoup, and training on digital literacy instruction.

Libraries receiving either award package will be expected to participate in virtual meetings for sharing and learning and submit reports for evaluation purposes.

Additional information about the DigitalLead project will be shared at PLA’s educational session, The Digital Literacy Frontier: From Broadband Access to Skill Development at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference.

Call for Applications

Check back to this web site in mid-June 2019 for information on how to apply.

Resources for All Libraries

Through the DigitalLead project, PLA will create tools for mobile hotspot lending programs and digital literacy instruction in public libraries and will present webinars and other educational programs, to benefit libraries of all sizes. We will be updating and adding to the resources on this page beginning in July 2019. In the meantime, please take advantage of the following resources.

  • PLA’s features self-directed tutorials for learners to increase their digital literacy. These video-based modules are 6 to 22 minutes long, written at the fourth-grade reading level, and available in Spanish as well as English.
  • Tools and Resources for Trainers features over 80 sets of ready-made tools (slide templates, activity sheets, and other planning documents) to help you teach computers skills, apps, safety, and more in your library. If you are interested in teaching a new class, or just want to refresh your own training materials, use Tools and Resources for Trainers.
  • PLA’s Digital Literacy Initiative offers recorded webinars, information on PLA’s digital literacy interest group, and more.


Questions regarding the project can be directed to Leighann Wood at More information on the application and process will be posted on a Frequently Asked Questions page in June 2019.