The Maine State Library is partnering with a Portland-based business to help connect Maine, one of the country’s most rural states, more closely to the world, through a program to improve public Internet access and video conferencing services at more than 100 public libraries statewide.
Tilson Government Services LLC, part of the Tilson Technology Management family of companies, is working with the Maine State Library to implement the Maine Public Library Information Commons Project, a program that will increase broadband Internet access at 107 libraries, provide training in computer literacy, help unemployed and underemployed residents find employment, and increase the access Maine’s residents have to legal information and forms. The project also will establish 11 video conferencing regional hubs that will be used to enhance training for librarians and patrons.
In the nation’s second most rural state, 59.9 percent of Maine’s population lives in rural areas. Eight of the state’s 16 counties have unemployment rates above the national average, and a number of Maine’s traditional industries are confronted by the immediate need to adapt to today’s economy. While an increasing number of services and employment opportunities are available online, many Maine residents lack available or affordable high-speed Internet access.
“The Maine Public Library Information Commons Project will not only significantly augment the high-speed Internet access available to the public at Maine’s libraries but also will provide the information and training that Maine’s citizens need to take advantage of new opportunities,” said Linda Lord, Maine state librarian. “The ability to access public computers with high-speed Internet access is critical to economic development in Maine.”
This need becomes all the more clear in light of research conducted by the American Library Association that shows that for 73 percent of Americans, public libraries are the sole source of no-fee access to the Internet. By adding more than 500 workstations, the project will permit Maine’s libraries to serve an additional 7,000 users per week. The project also will leverage approximately 120,000 hours of instruction that will provide training for up to 120,000 people over the project’s two-year span. A partnership with the Maine Department of Labor will help unemployed Mainers leverage library resources to find needed employment.
Funding for the project is provided by a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with additional funds coming from the Maine Telecommunications Education Access Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Maine State Library, Maine InfoNet, and the Maine School and Library Network Circuit Rider.