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Katherine Harris unveils $5 million gift From Bill and Melinda Gates

Florida's Secretary of State announces Gates Learning Foundation funds will be used to provide access to digital information for Florida public library patrons

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Kathy McCord
Phone: 850.414.5500

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced today that Florida public libraries will receive approximately $5 million in grants to purchase computers, Internet access and technical training for libraries in low-income communities. The Gates Learning Foundation, one of two philanthropic foundations created by Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates, awarded the grants. Jack Faris, a member of the senior executive team for the Foundations, presented the award to Secretary Harris and Mary Jane Little, president of the Florida Library Association, during the Florida Library Association annual meeting in St. Augustine, Fla.

"This is a tremendously generous gift from Bill and Melinda Gates," said Secretary Harris. "Their benevolence will help Florida's public libraries continue a long tradition of providing our citizens with a clear pathway to securing knowledge."

Grants from the Foundation are targeted particularly to libraries and library branches that serve low-income populations. The equipment, to be used to establish Internet access for library patrons, will be available to 450 libraries and branches throughout the state that qualify under the grant terms. Separately, Microsoft Corporation will donate software with an estimated value of $3 million to libraries receiving Foundation grants.

"Computer literacy is a basic requirement for employment in the new millenium," said Secretary Harris. "Libraries are a natural site for developing free access to information available over the Internet."

According to Faris, the Gates Learning Foundation began addressing what is called "the digital divide" issue in 1997.

"This gift from the Foundation is not about technology, it's about providing the tools to unlock learning and discovery for all people. By partnering with Florida libraries we know we can make access to knowledge and information a reality for all of the people of Florida," Faris said.

Little, who accepted the Foundation's gift on behalf of Florida's librarians, praised the Foundation for its foresight in choosing public libraries as its conduit.

"Equal access to learning is a fundamental tenet of a library's reason for being," Little said. "The Internet is now a basic learning tool just as encyclopedias, reference books and the great novels," she continued. "It is critical that technology be available to everyone, regardless of race, gender, income or age," Little said.

To date, the Gates Learning Foundation worked with more than 1,300 under-served public libraries in 29 states to bring Internet access and training to their patrons. The Foundation's five-year goal is to reach more than 10,000 American and 1,400 Canadian libraries, and provide training for librarians, taking an active role to provide information access for future generations.

According to the National Telecommunications and Information Agency's (NTIA) July 1998 report, "Falling Through the Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide," personal computer ownership has increased by almost 52 percent since 1985. In the same time period, Internet access has increased by close to 140 percent, and e-mail access has expanded by almost 400 percent. However, this amazing growth in technology use has occurred to a greater extent within some income levels, demographic groups, and geographic groups over others, and the gap is growing.

The highest percentage of people with on-line access are those earning more than $75,000 in urban areas (50.3 percent); the lowest percentage of people with on-line access are those earning between $5,000 and $10,000 in rural areas (2.3 percent).

"By making Internet access available at public libraries, particularly those that serve lower-income patrons, the Gates Foundation is carrying on the idealistic and public service role that our libraries have always served, and continuing in the tradition of Andrew Carnegie, another great library philanthropist," said Secretary Harris.

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