October 4, 2001

Library Receives Grant To Improve Public Internet Access

Scotland County Memorial Library received a $4,385 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's U.S. Library Program through the office of Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt on September 27.

The funding is earmarked for improving the library's technology assets, including computer hardware, software, training and technical support. The cash grant will be used to purchase a Gates standalone computer and a laser printer as well as for all wiring and connection costs.

Librarian Melissa Schuester stated the new computer system will dramatically improve public Internet access at the library.

"The computer purchased through this grant is much faster than the old system," Schuester said. "Plus it will allow us to dedicate the old computer to word processing, meaning this new system will be more readily available for Internet use."

Schuester stated the library computer currently is being used as many as 70 hours a month for Internet access. She indicated top uses include Internet job searches, reviewing health care resources, and checking weather conditions. "There are a lot of different uses for our Internet access," she said. "We even had one person sell a vehicle on line using the library's computer."

The new computer system is expected to be available for use in January. The local staff will attend a training session in Moberly later in October. The Gates Foundation staff will then travel to Memphis to perform additional training in house at the library.

"This is an exciting time for Missouri libraries," said Blunt. "The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will bring electronic resources to Missourians who rely on their library for access to the Internet. These grants also will give library patrons greater access to a variety of computer software ranging from the Magic School Bus reading software for children to Word 2000, a word processing program."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes while computer use has exploded across the country, there remains a troubling gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not - a gap known as the "digital divide."

The foundation goes on to state that access to information is an age-old problem that has taken on a new urgency with the emergence of the Internet as a fundamental tool for learning. It is critically important that technology is available to everyone, regardless of race, gender, income or age.

Libraries, with their heritage of providing free information, are playing an important role in bridging the digital divide. However, many library systems lack the financial resources to provide widespread public access to technology. The combination of these factors led Bill and Melinda Gates to launch their large scale philanthropic efforts with public libraries, reflecting their commitment to address the digital divide in a global, systematic way.

The U.S. Library Program makes grants to public libraries for the purpose of purchasing computers and hardware to bring Internet access to their patrons. The five-year goal of the library program is to provide grants to the more than 11,000 libraries in the United States and Canada serving low-income communities; provide training to librarians; and ensure information access for future generations.

In addition to the local grant, the Gates Foundation made seven larger grants to regional libraries that will serve as training labs for the state.

"The seven computer labs will create a network to bring training to library personnel and patrons," said Blunt. "Through this generous grant from the Gates Foundation, libraries will have the expanded ability to host training sessions for their communities as well as surrounding library personnel."

The regional labs will be located in Moberly, Gallatin, Nevada, Camdenton, West Plains, Dexter and Bonne Terre. Each lab will include 11 computers with pre-loaded software as well as other equipment.

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