Grant bringing WiFi to county libraries from Jeff Keeling on Vimeo.
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Grant bringing free WiFi service to county libraries
It may not include an overpriced fancy coffee drink, but free wifi is coming soon to the Jonesborough and Gray libraries thanks to a nearly $50,000 grant that will also put a public computer center, consisting of 12 laptops and one LCD projector, in each of the two libraries. The work should be complete by sometime this fall.
“I knew I wanted to do some of this the minute I walked in the door in 2005,” Washington County Library Director Pat Beard says. “I knew some of this technology was available and it would benefit the area so much.”
Beard and the libraries' IT director, Ginger Mercer, spent several years researching the possibilities, and then everything came together with the U.S. Department of Commerce's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.
The funds, administered by Commerce, come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and flow through the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Washington County Library Director Pat Beard says there will be many benefits, but the expressed purpose of the program, according to the state and federal governments, is “to support the educational and career goals of Tennessee’s most disadvantaged citizens, including those with high levels of poverty, unemployment, or disability, as well as senior citizens and youth...”
The local libraries have received $33,248 in grant funds, and are matching that with another $14,972. The grant is for three years, but most of the activity and expenses associated with it will take place this year as the libraries purchase the laptops and projectors, and have the wireless infrastructure installed. The grant also pays for the first three years of wireless service.
One top priority will be meeting the needs of people without access to computers or the Internet, and Beard says that will include partnering with area agencies to teach job search and resume-building courses, along with basic computer classes for people who still haven't gained those skills. The wireless system will make those things easier by allowing the classes to meet in more appropriate areas of the library, but it will do much more, Beard says.
For one thing, it will back up the libraries' wired Internet systems, so that if that goes down the circulation system and the libraries' desktop computers will still be able to function. Finally, the system will be a boon to people who bring in their own laptops — and in Jonesborough, that applies particularly to genealogy buffs who use the extensive genealogical resources in Tennessee's oldest town.
“We get those from all over the country, and they bring their laptops, and they will be really excited to get in here and use the Internet, and save their documents to the “cloud,” and all the things people want to be able to do,” Beard said.
Gil Rosenberg, a Jonesborough resident who uses the library for genealogical research, agreed. He's so supportive of the project that he has stepped forward to help meet the grant's match requirement.
“It will be nice to load stuff into your computer, or copy stuff out of their files into your computer while you're there looking at it,” Rosenberg said. “Plus, people who have computers but can't afford to connect to the Internet, this gives them an excellent opportunity to do that. Job search in particular it's real handy for.”
That's precisely the reason for the grants, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said.
“In a globalized 21st century economy, when you don't have regular access to high-speed Internet, you don't have access to all the educational, business and employment opportunities it provides,” Locke said.
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