The Maine State Library, located in Augusta, is partnering with a Portland-based business to help increase Maine’s—one of the country’s most rural states—connection to the world, through a program to improve public Internet access and video conferencing services at more than 100 public libraries across the state.
Tilson Government Services, LLC, is working with the State Library to implement the Maine Public Library Information Commons Project, a program designed to increase broadband Internet access at 107 libraries, the company says in a written statement. By increasing broadband Internet access at those libraries, vulnerable populations can have access to computer literacy training; help unemployed and underemployed residents find work; and increase citizens’ access to legal information and forms, Tilson says.
As part of the project, 11 video conferencing regional hubs are planned. Those hubs will enhance training for librarians and patrons, Tilson says. Maine is the second most rural state, and 59.9 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Eight of the Maine’s 16 counties have unemployment rates above the national average, and a number of the state’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.
Therefore, the project will not only augment the high-speed internet access available to the public at Maine’s libraries, but will also provide the information and training that the state’s citizens need to take advantage of new opportunities, said State Librarian Linda Lord. “The ability to access public computers with high-speed internet access is critical to economic development in Maine,” Lord said.
This need for high-speed internet access becomes all the more clear in light of research conducted by the American Library Association, which 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 will also 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 employment.
“It’s exciting to know we will be helping Mainers access the information and services they need, by using our program, project, and technology grant management skills to ensure the success of such an important project,” said Joshua Broder, president of Tilson Government Services.
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