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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grant

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 4, 2009

Our library system will soon be receiving our 2009 “Opportunity Online hardware grant” from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


About one-fourth of Ohio’s public libraries will be receiving these grants, designated for areas defined as being in “economic need.”


In our library system, all locations except the Schiappa Branch will be receiving grant monies for technology upgrades over the next two years.


The Gates Foundation has said that this is the final grant cycle for public libraries.


In 2001, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation purchased computers for public libraries to provide Internet access to the public.


One of the requirements of the grant was attendance at a Workshop in Columbus for all grant recipients from Ohio and Indiana.


Called “Turning the Page: Building Your Library Community,” the workshop was designed to help us tell our story to the public.


Libraries today are much more than people’s stereotype of the public library with dingy old books, and ladies with their hair in a bun and a pencil protruding.


Libraries today are centers of information of all types, with databases and online catalogs, and Internet access.


The first round of Gates grants was to provide the equipment to make libraries accessible to the Internet.


This round is to enhance Internet access to the 40 percent of libraries having difficulty providing quality technology services to their public.


Research done by the Gates Foundation has found that one-third of Americans do not have Internet access at home.


We are finding that number to be higher in our area due to the economy and the lack of Internet access in parts of the county.


The downturn in the economy has caused some people who had Internet access at home to drop the service due to the cost of both the service and computing power necessary to utilize it.


The Gates Workshop helped librarians realize that we have so many stories to tell, but sharing those stories often doesn’t happen.


During the recent funding debate, many people called us to share their library stories.


Many related to childhood memories of using their local public library, and the importance to their education.


Others related to the public library as a community location, a place for a book discussion or help with an online form.


Some related to an information search, sometimes involving a family tree quest.


Public Libraries have always been the “great equalizer” for the public, providing information to all and being the place where everyone is welcome.


The earliest subscription libraries were ways for people to assemble books for everyone’s benefit.


Today’s public libraries are rapidly becoming unique in our society as a place for people to go for all of that information no longer available elsewhere, as so many agencies have closed and disappeared to be replaced by an Internet site or 800 phone number.


We still have people at the desk and on the phone.  We still operate buildings that are open to the public.


How many people file their unemployment claims at the library?


How many people use their e-mail at the library?


We thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for helping us provide computers and the Internet at the library.