By Monica Castellanos
AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine state, congressional, business and community leaders gathered Friday in the Hall of Flags at the State Capitol to celebrate the completion of the Maine State Library’s $1.9 million Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) project, which increased publicly available computer workstations at 107 public libraries by 40 percent and invested in a state-of-the-art video conferencing system that now links 14 public libraries across the state.
The new infrastructure has put Maine public libraries on the front lines of economic recovery and economic opportunity, allowing them to provide access to job training resources and deliver more than 25,000 hours (over 1,000 days or almost 3 years) of practical, one-on-one job search assistance. The network also allows for free access to Internet speeds that aren’t available in many parts of the state, providing individuals a place to do the online video training they need to maintain their professional certifications and keep their private sector jobs. Finally, among many important uses for the video conferencing system, it has already provided private businesses in rural Maine with access to world-class business coaching and training sessions.
“We are here today to say thank you to everyone who has supported Maine’s public libraries,” said Maine State Librarian Linda Lord. “We are grateful for your support and together, with librarians across the state, we are working hard to ensure Mainers know their local public library is a place where they can find a book, a video – and also get free access to high-speed Internet and good, practical help finding a job.”
“National research tells us that at least 40 percent of American public library visits are for employment-related needs,” Lord said, referencing an American Library Association report released May 2, 2013. “Here in Maine, local librarians are absolutely committed to being on the front lines of economic recovery and opportunity, helping our neighbors access the tools, training and bandwidth they need to succeed in today’s economy.”
Lord introduced several speakers, including Maine’s 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud, who attended the event. “Libraries have always been places of study, community, and creativity. Now, thanks to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the hard work of the Maine State Library, public libraries across our state are also doorways to economic opportunity,” said Michaud. “I am particularly pleased to see the special attention that has gone into reaching out to serve our Maine Veterans. We must do everything we can to help those who have served our country so honorably.”
Patrick Therrien, a 20-year U.S. Navy veteran and the training and education specialist who developed state-of-the-art employment-related courses under the BTOP initiative, told a compelling story. Therrien, who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology, a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership, and a Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Management, found himself unemployed in 2011.
Although he assumed his background and skills would make it easy to find a job, Therrien actually spent three months unemployed and ended up doing a lot of research into the most effective strategy, tools, and techniques for finding a job in the modern economy. Working with the Maine State Library under the BTOP grant, Therrien was able to apply what he learned firsthand to create and deliver a suite of online, video and in-person training courses to help Mainers.
“The reality is that the old system of searching for opportunities – “Click, Review, Apply and Pray,” does not work anymore,” said Therrien. “What the Maine State Library created with the Information Commons project and Learning Express is a state-of-the-art, easy-to-access, easy-to-use ‘one-stop shop’ of common sense tools that can help any Mainer, in any part of the state, finding and landing employment and career opportunities.”
Maine State Library and Therrien developed the tools and then took the tools on the road, across the entire state, driving more than 16,000 miles to conduct more than 123 training sessions from Presque Isle to York, including specially designed sessions for unemployed Veterans.
Maine State Library and Therrien developed the tools and then took them on the road, across the entire state, driving 30,000 miles to conduct more than 123 training sessions from Presque Isle to York, including specially designed sessions for unemployed veterans.
Peter Pare, executive director of the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Employment Services, spoke about how the tools developed by the Maine State Library under the BTOP grant are now a core part of the economic opportunity tools and training offered by the Department of Labor. Pare, who had 32 years of private sector experience in the United States and Asia before joining the Bureau of Employment Services two years ago, is passionate about helping all Mainers find economic opportunity.
“Today, we have approximately 48,000 unemployed Maine citizens and 12 Career Centers where those folks can access tools and training,” said Pare. “Through our partnership with the Maine State Library, we have a tremendous set of tools available online through Learning Express – and over 200 public libraries where Mainers can access those tools. Linda Lord, Janet McKenney and Maine’s public libraries are now a critical, core part of our state’s front line economic opportunity strategy. I am glad to be here today to congratulate them on the excellent work they have done on behalf of Maine people.”
Linda Lord spoke about some of the important ways the Maine State Library’s state-of-the-art video conferencing system is being used, including: educational programming offered through the University of Maine System, public health information dissemination (for instance an upcoming Portland presentation on Lyme Disease being shown in all 14 locations around the state) and a nationally recognized program, Access to Justice, which is providing Mainers with access to free legal advice. Lord also introduced GWI Inc. CEO Fletcher Kittredge to talk about another exciting use of the video technology.
Kittredge noted that he had participated in a program with Maine State Library, the University of Maine and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development (MCED) to host a statewide video conference with Steve Blank – Silicon Valley’s number one entrepreneurship educator. Maine entrepreneurs statewide, including Kittredge, were able to hear Blank’s presentation and ask questions relevant to growing their own businesses all across.
“As a believer in technology’s ability to make distance disappear and grow Maine’s economy, it was impressive to have small businesses sit in public libraries from Houlton to York and have one-on-one business coaching with one of the world’s leading technology entrepreneurs 3,000 miles away,” said Kittredge. “This kind of infrastructure and programming has tremendous potential to help Maine’s private sector, grow our small businesses and create jobs in Maine’s rural communities.”
Janet McKenney, the Maine State Library’s Director of Library Development, closed out the program discussing new statewide digital literacy programs in the works to build on the initial success of the BTOP infrastructure.
“In the same way some of us remember stacks of books and card catalogues when we think about our community library, today’s young people are going to grow up knowing that their local library is a place where they can access the latest technology and find economic opportunity,” said McKenney. “We thank everyone here today for helping us take another giant step in that direction and we look forward to continuing to work together to build on our momentum.”
Support for the Maine State Library’s BTOP Economic Development Infrastructure & Work was expressed as follows:
From U.S. Sen. Susan Collins:
“Local libraries are at the heart of so many of our communities and they have become critical resources, especially in rural areas, for Mainers looking for a job. I am pleased to have supported the federal funding that has successfully expanded access to computer and broadband services in libraries all across our state. These services will help make it easier for job seekers not only to update their resumes and complete applications, but to also identify training and new career opportunities.”
U.S. Sen. Angus King:
“The Maine State Library and its affiliates across the state deserve congratulations for taking full advantage of the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program. The efforts of Maine’s public libraries to vastly expand their technological capabilities have been matched by equally impressive initiatives to put these new computers and video conferencing units to work helping Mainers. Not only have local librarians used these tools to help citizens gain technology and job-seeking skills on-site, but they have also remotely connected neighbors with lawyers and other professionals to bring specialized seminars to rural towns. Maine’s libraries should be proud of how they have helped to level the technological playing field for communities across the state.”
Congressman Mike Michaud:
“Libraries have always been places of study, community, and creativity. Now, thanks to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the hard work of the Maine State Library, public libraries across our state are also doorways to economic opportunity. I am particularly pleased to see the special attention that has gone into reaching out to serve our Maine Veterans. We must do everything we can to help those who have served our country so honorably.”
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree:
“Long gone are the days that access to a computer or a broadband connection was a luxury. In today’s world, being able to go online is a necessity for daily life, and this project represents a significant improvement in access for Mainers from all walks of life, all across our state.”
The Maine State Library (MSL) is a state agency that provides resources to the citizens of Maine and services to Maine libraries as well as state agencies. The MSL works at the local, state and federal level with libraries and library organizations to contribute to the prosperity of the state and the quality of life of its people through access to knowledge, ideas and inspiration. The MSL works with more than 250 public libraries statewide as well as academic, special, and K-12 school libraries. With locations in so many communities, public libraries have become the place where all Maine people can access both high-speed Internet and the tools and training they need to find economic opportunity.