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American Libraries Association Research Will Help Increase Participation in E-Rate Program and Improve Library Connectivity

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Andy Bridges
American Libraries Association
Phone: 202.628.8410

WASHINGTON -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) of the American Library Association (ALA) $375,000 to study ways to improve library connectivity and increase library participation in the federal E-rate program.

The grant will help OITP develop and test a training and support program for state library E-rate coordinators seeking the federal funding. Library applicants currently receive less than 5% of the E-rate program funding, and ALA research has indicated that program complexity is a major reason for low library participation rates. By providing high-quality training and support to the state library coordinators who work with applicants, we hope to reduce program confusion and minimize barriers. The foundation’s investment will also support OITP research on barriers libraries face in sustaining high-quality Internet connectivity and local or state-level opportunities that could help libraries increase and maintain quality access for patrons.

"It's vitally important for libraries to stay ahead of the technology curve," said Rick Weingarten, OITP Director. "To carry out fully their responsibilities to provide public access computing, libraries need to obtain modern broadband Internet connectivity, and will need to continually stay at this rapidly moving leading edge."

“Public libraries play an increasingly important role in providing computer and Internet services and technology skills training to communities throughout the United States,” said Jill Nishi, manager of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Libraries initiative.

“Taking advantage of funding available through the E-rate program is one way that libraries can keep up with demand for technology services, but better support and training on how to access that funding is needed to ensure full utilization of the dollars available.

E-rate is the popular name for a far-sighted extension of the Universal Service Fund, as authorized by Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The federal initiative provides discounts to public libraries and to public and private K-12 schools on telecommunications services, Internet access, and some closely related costs, such as inside wiring. E-rate has played a pivotal role in helping libraries connect their patrons to the Internet.

The Office for Information Technology Policy
The Office for Information Technology Policy advances ALA’s public policy activities by helping secure information technology policies that support and encourage efforts of libraries to ensure access to electronic information resources as a means of upholding the public’s right to a free and open information society. It works to ensure a library voice in information policy debates and to promote full and equitable intellectual participation by the public.

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