By Ashlee Clark, Executive Secretary to the State Librarian, State Library of Ohio
In late 2008, the State Library of Ohio was chosen to participate in the third and final round of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s (BMGF) Opportunity Online hardware grant program. The State Library of Ohio agreed to be the intermediary for the Ohio process. Awarded since 2007, the grant program provides funds to help public libraries upgrade and add public computer workstations for patrons in communities that have high concentrations of poverty and also have public computers that are at risk of becoming outdated with limited capacity for users.
The BMGF, using their own process, determined which public libraries were poverty-eligible and thus met the first criteria for participating in the program. The State Library then worked with the public libraries meeting the poverty eligibility requirements to fill out a survey using TechAtlas, a tool to help libraries through the technology planning process. This resulted in a complete inventory of the technology in these libraries. Using the results of TechAtlas, the BMGF developed the list of libraries eligible to participate in the grant – those that were both poverty-eligible and technologically vulnerable. Missy Lodge, Head of Library Programs and Development, wrote a proposal to the foundation requesting funding for those libraries meeting both the economic and hardware requirements. The State Library was very pleased to receive the grant on behalf of 162 public libraries representing 61 library systems. These systems will receive 964 public access computers. In addition to the computers, the libraries will also receive funds for technology training and support.
The BMGF believes that sustainability of technology is very important. Libraries were required to attend the Public Library Association’s Turning the Page: Building Your Library Community, advocacy training designed to help strengthen the skills of library professionals to increase awareness of the library’s value and motivate local support. They must fill out the American Library Association’s Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study. Libraries also must provide matching funds of 25% the first year and 50% the second year.
Once these requirements are met, funds are allocated by the State Library Board. At the October Board meeting, twelve libraries received funding for the first year. The remaining libraries will receive funding for the first year at the December and January Board meetings. Funding for the second year will be taken to the State Library Board for allocation in the fall of 2010.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation highlights that even though 73 percent of libraries are usually the only access to free Internet in their communities, many are without adequate funding to meet the growing demand and to maintain quality computer and Internet services. The first two rounds of the Opportunity Online hardware grants were awarded in 2007 and 2008 to 21 states, in 2009 to 11 states, and in 2006 were awarded to 18 states as the Public Access Computing Hardware Upgrade program. Overall, the foundation has invested $350 million to support the installation and sustainability of computers in libraries and to train thousands of library staff across the United States.
Additional Information on the Opportunity Online grants
WebJunction Ohio – Bill and Melinda Gates Opportunity Online Hardware Grant