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Meeting of the Board of Regents | March 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008 - 3:00am

sed seal                                                                                                 




signature of Jeff Cannell






New York State Universal Broadband Access Grant Program



February 27, 2008












Issue for Discussion


              The New York State Library’s application to the New York State Universal Broadband Access Grant Program to improve broadband access in public libraries statewide.


Reason(s) for Consideration


              For information.


Proposed Handling


              The Cultural Education Committee will discuss the need for increased broadband access for public libraries and public library systems in New York State. The Committee will hear an update on the status of the New York State Universal Broadband Access Grant Program and its significance for libraries.


Procedural History


The State Library, in partnership with the 23 public library systems and the New York Library Association, has applied to the Governor’s Office for Technology for a $1.25 million 2007–2008 State Universal Broadband Access Grant to improve broadband access and digital literacy programs for the public through public libraries and neighborhood branches, particularly those libraries located in high-need rural and urban areas of the state. The proposal is titled “Bringing Broadband to New York’s Libraries.”

Up to $1 million will be designated for public libraries and public library systems for the purpose of creating or upgrading their broadband access. Up to $250,000 will be used to provide such libraries with the resources to create and expand library-based Community Technology Centers (as described by the Office for Technology) that offer digital literacy training and services (including e-Government services) to their communities.


If the State Library’s application is successful, the initiative will energize and provide synergy with the proposed public library construction grant program for 2008–09, the Gates Foundation’s 2007–09 Opportunity Online Hardware Grants program, and the $10 million proposal for the Statewide Internet Library, which if funded by the legislature, will also provide limited funds to enable the public library systems to upgrade broadband capabilities for their member libraries.


Background Information


The final report of the Regents Commission on Library Services emphasized the need for libraries to meet the changing information needs of New Yorkers and the growing role of libraries’ technology services in meeting those needs.


Libraries serve an increasingly important leadership role in telecommunications. They provide a major outlet for critical information services, services that offer benefits, efficiencies, and cost savings to state and local governments. Because a majority of Americans frequent their public library, providing libraries with the means to become Community Technology Centers enables preparation of an informed public able to take advantage of e-Government and economic services that ultimately benefit state and local government.


              In a recent Zogby International survey of New Yorkers, commissioned by the New York Library Association, 65 percent of respondents said a member of their household visits a library. Twenty-three percent stated that a member of the household visits a library once a week or more. Sixteen percent agreed that a member of the household visits a few times a year, and a quarter agreed that a household member visits a few times a month.


According to a 2007 survey published by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the University of Illinois entitled “Information Searches That Solve Problems: How People Use the Internet, Government Agencies, and Libraries When They Need Help,” more than half of American adults said they had visited their local public library in the past 12 months. New Yorkers visited their libraries 110 million times in 2006.


Based on the Pew survey results, a key challenge for libraries is supporting the technology resources needed to serve their diverse populations so that they can continue to be the valued problem-solving resource they are perceived to be by their communities. Seven in 10 people surveyed indicated that they required assistance from library staff in using the library’s technology resources. This indicates a clear need for local public libraries not only to offer robust technology resources but also to become Community Technology Centers.


Many of New York State’s public libraries still do not have adequate broadband Internet access or enough public-access computers to meet the information needs of their diverse communities. Many of these communities are in an information void due to geographical factors, socioeconomic conditions, or lack of essential computer skills. At the same time, there is strong evidence that the demand for adequate broadband access is rising, e.g., the increased use of NOVELNY, the pilot program for the Statewide Internet Library.


In 2007, a study done by Florida State University (FSU) in conjunction with the American Library Association (ALA) surveyed the connectivity needs of New York’s public libraries. Over 90 percent of New York’s 1,100 public libraries and branches participated. Preliminary survey results show that library connectivity inadequacies are serious and widespread. Challenges stem from both the lack of availability and affordability of high-speed connections and the growing demands of websites and Internet-based services and applications for greater bandwidth. The preliminary survey results found that 95.23 percent of New York’s public libraries lacked adequate broadband access services for their patrons due to lack of funding.


Other states already have statewide programs to provide their libraries with access to broadband connectivity funding. In December 2007, California announced the most recent statewide initiative called the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Under the terms of the initiative, libraries are eligible to apply for broadband connectivity funds in unserved and underserved regions of California. Funds up to $100 million will be awarded over a two-year period.


Currently, New York State’s 1,100 individual public libraries and branches receive no direct annual state funding specifically for technology purposes. Although New York’s public library systems receive over $77 million in state aid, only a small percentage, approximately 1.9 million or 2.4 percent, is specified for technology-related costs. Most of these funds are consumed by staffing and hardware-replacement costs. Most public libraries already have trouble maintaining their current level of technology services, and are unable to upgrade technology without receiving some help to obtain broadband access or upgrade their current access.




              Staff recommend that the Regents work with the library community to support current efforts to create or enhance broadband capabilities in libraries and to develop and implement strategies for obtaining future funding to further these efforts on behalf of libraries in New York State. Such strategies for increasing broadband access should be entirely compatible with those to further the Statewide Internet Library proposal, a Regents budget priority for 2008–09.


Timetable for Implementation


              If “Bringing Broadband to New York’s Libraries” is funded, the grant implementation period will extend from March 2008 to December 2009, with the Project Evaluation completed by July 2010.