Opportunity Knocks | EditorialIt’s time for libraries to be heard on broadband and funding support Feb 1, 2011
Opportunity. That was one of the watchwords at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in San Diego early last month. We heard it at the Urban Libraries Council program on broadband and at OCLC’s 2010 update to the Perceptions of Libraries Study done in 2005. “Opportunity is at the root of the broadband debate,” said Nicol Turner-Lee. “It’s not about technology.” Turner-Lee (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies), who conducted the first National Minority Broadband Adoption Study, was referring not only to the opportunities for economic and educational advancement that broadband, and libraries, make possible but also to the opportunity libraries must seize now to get into the broadband debate.
“When people depend on you for e-government services, you have a voice. When 30 million people job-search on your computers, you have a voice,” she said.
Turner-Lee posed several questions that force us to think about the consequences of libraries’ “being passed over” in an increasingly mobile-connected world. Will you have enough bandwidth to deliver online education, streaming video, and myriad other services? With new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) E-rate rules allowing libraries to obtain connectivity not just from telecom providers but from other for-profit and nonprofit sources, she urged librarians to “think creatively” about partnerships to expand the bandwidth spectrum. Think “outside in rather than inside out,” she said, and “create a quilt of agencies that care about development opportunities.” She told librarians to negotiate public/private partnerships, pulling in schools and other government-funded entities, as well as foundations, cable companies, and others.
As “mobile...[changes] the landscape of connectivity,” Turner-Lee asked, will libraries be able to afford wireless connectivity outside the library—which is not currently funded by E-rate or other federal money for libraries? “We need to hear librarians’ voices...on E-rate,” she said. The timing is particularly crucial right now, since the FCC recently funded a $10 million pilot program for “off-premise wireless device connectivity” for libraries (and schools) that might lead to E-rate support for libraries to provide such services. (For more on this, see LibraryJournal.com, “ALA Midwinter 2011: Major Changes in E-rate Discounts Take Effect.”)
Referring to the need for Internet “affordability, availability, and accessibility,” Turner-Lee noted, “You hold that same responsibility to help people discover what they used to find in books, to find what they need from computers and the Internet.” Those discoveries, are, she said, “the transformative opportunities that many, including ourselves, are looking for.” Libraries are “contributing to the health and welfare of our economy every day” and “have more purpose today than ever before....”
That message was clear from OCLC’s Cathy De Rosa as well, whose latest study (bit.ly/ev64RZ) shows expanded use of the library among the one-third of American families who say someone in their immediate family has been negatively impacted by the recession. De Rosa, global VP of marketing, has done several studies on library use and funding and the lack of correlation between the two. What does correlate, however, is support for library funding based on the perception of the library as transformative. “Funding is not predicated on a view of the library as an information source but rather on a view of the library as a source of growth and potential,” said De Rosa. Her latest research shows that “users perceive an overall increase in the value of the library for themselves, for their families, and for their communities in these economic times.” That bodes well for library support, she said. “We have the best opportunity in a decade to advocate” for library funding and support and to advertise library services and value.
All of this leads to the same conclusion. As Turner-Lee and De Rosa urge, let’s seize the moment.
|Francine Fialkoff (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief, LJ|