From books to broadband
The governor's task force on broadband held a meeting on September 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Douglas County Library in Alexandria.
The meeting began with a welcome by Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson and an Introducing Libraries presentation by Jennifer Nelson of the State Library Services.
One of the main presentations given was Libraries Respond to the Digital Landscape by Melinda Ludwiczak of the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA).
Ludwiczak spoke about how public libraries in Minnesota, starting with the seven-county library system in the Twin Cities, are expanding their electronic resources and offerings.
"One of the things that we've discovered as we enter this digital age is that free access to these has evolved from a rare commodity to a core service," she said.
The way libraries change is by format, not by mission. The main change is offering free Internet access.
According to Ludwiczak, 20 percent of American adults do not have broadband or smartphone connection, and "public libraries have taken on that role of providing Internet access."
The average number of Internet workstations in public libraries is 13.7. Over the 2011-2012 year, Internet use at libraries increased 71.8 percent.
According to Ludwiczak, some other advances that libraries in Minnesota are starting to offer include express library kiosks, most of which are offered outside of the library 24/7; bike-mobiles that offer Wi-Fi hotspots and collections of books; and reader bars, where people can bring their eReaders to get assistance on how to download eBooks.
In the seven-county metro area, the libraries receive upwards of 1,000 users a month accessing Internet resources for résumé help, interview coaching, homework assistance in English and Spanish, research, downloadable content, updates in emergencies, unemployment registration and more.
Because of the funds it takes to purchase Internet stations and install broadband connectivity, many smaller public libraries have so far been unable to offer Internet services. It all depends on what they are able to purchase.
However, they are all working toward the same goal.
"We want to keep people off of the digital sideline," Ludwiczak said.
Other topics presented were The Future is Today by MaryAnn Van Cura of State Library Services, Leveraging Resources for Digital Access: Making it Work by Peg Werner of the Viking Library System, and Proposed E-Rate Changes.
The meeting concluded with library tours provided by the Douglas County director and others.