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Meeting of the Board of Regents | February 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 11:00pm

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New York State Universal Broadband Access Grant Program



January 21, 2009













Issue for Discussion


              An update regarding the New York State Library’s three statewide initiatives to improve broadband access in public libraries: The Gates Foundation Opportunity Online Hardware Grant Program; the Broadband Access Grant Program awarded by the Office for Technology; and the Gates Foundation Opportunity Online Broadband Access Grant Program.


Reason(s) for Consideration


              For information.


Proposed Handling


              The Cultural Education Committee will discuss the great 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 State Library’s participation in various broadband access initiatives to further broadband access in public libraries statewide.


Procedural History


The State Library, in partnership with the 23 public library systems and the New York Library Association, was awarded $235,500 by the Governor’s Office for Technology for a State Universal Broadband Access Grant to improve broadband access 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.”


This initiative will energize and provide synergy with the proposed public library construction grant program for 2009–10, the Gates Foundation’s 2007–09 Opportunity Online Hardware Grant program, the newly announced Gates Foundation Opportunity Online Broadband Access program, and provide support for the Statewide Internet Library.


The Gates Foundation 2007-2009 Opportunity Online Hardware Grant Program awards computer hardware and software to public libraries that serve high need communities with a poverty level of 10% or more.  In Phase 1, which ended December 31, 2008, 1,896 computers have been purchased for the 421 participating libraries.  This grant program is worth $6.1 million.


The purpose of the recently announced Gates Foundation Opportunity Online Broadband Access Grant Program is to provide or improve connectivity speeds in public libraries. This program begins in 2009 and involves over 100 of New York’s public libraries.


Each of these grant programs provide added support for the Statewide Internet Library, which has seen a usage increase each year since its inception in 1999.  It currently has over 5,400 participating registered libraries and 31 million searches reported annually.


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 critical 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 (as described by the Office for Technology) enables preparation of an informed public able to take advantage of E-Government and economic services that ultimately benefit state and local government.        


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 a 2007-2008, 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. Survey results show that library connectivity inadequacies are serious and widespread. Sixty percent of New York’s public libraries lack adequate connection speed yet 82% of respondents indicated that providing broadband access is critical to their library’s community role.


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 continue to 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.


Timetable for Implementation


              All three statewide broadband access initiatives will be carried out in 2009 through 2011.