With the stimulus debate heating up in Washington, librarians are wondering where (if anywhere) we fit in to the economic recovery plan. David Bigwood at Catablogging raised the question yesterday, and our own Jenny Levine pointed out that our Washington office is on the case.
But what about Library Technology specifically? As we've pointed out in previous posts, many libraries are being forced to use library improvement funds now in order to keep their facilities open and ensure that basic services can be provided. In other words, money that was, at this time last year, earmarked for technology improvements is now being spent on other things.
Unfortunately, the slowdown in economic growth has not slowed the growing popularity of new, bandwidth intensive technology. With public library use skyrocketing, libraries must be able to keep their technology infrastructure current in order to serve the needs of 21st century patrons.
Of course in the near-term, many states and localities and private sector organizations are experiencing difficult financial conditions, adversely affecting public, academic, school, and other libraries. But there is some hope as the Obama Administration’s stimulus package is expected to place some emphasis (and provide some cash!) on national broadband infrastructure build-out and aid to states and localities. And ALA’s Washington Office is working vigorously to include libraries in the relevant parts of the stimulus package. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continues its hardware grants under its Opportunity Online program and just announced its intention to make broadband grants under this program. Finally, OITP continues its efforts to increase library participation in the E-rate program, both helping applicants through the application process and advocating for program simplification.
I'm encouraged by this, but I really think its important that there are provisions for library technology specifically. Of course all aspects of library service are important, but with at-home broadband access becoming a luxury that more and more Americans cannot afford, it is crucial that public libraries are able to facilitate technology use and learning in their communities.
This goes way beyond people using library computers to send e-mail or update their Facebook status. As we mentioned in previous posts (and in the January issue of Library Technology Reports), many public libraries are the only source of free high-speed Internet access in their communities. The Internet is a resource for people looking for work. The Internet helps people research ways to save money and manage their household budget. The Internet helps people network with family members and institutions that can help them in times of need.
Including provisions for Library Technology in the stimulus would not be "pork" or wasteful spending--it would make economic sense.