Texas State Library and Archives Commission Hosts Second Summit to Improve Internet Access in Texas Public Libraries

Margarita Dominguez of the Hill County Telephone Coop leads a table discussion on sustainable broadband and the role of emerging technology. She is joined by (L to R) Merla Watson, Library Director, Dickens County Spur Public Library; and Joyce Howze, Spur Main Street Program.

Library, local, and state leaders come together to discuss new strategies to improve and sustain high-speed Internet access for communities through public libraries

SAN ANTONIO – The Texas State Library and Archives Commission assembled more than 270 public library leaders, community supporters, broadband providers, and local and state leaders for Texas’ second Opportunity Online Broadband Summit on November 18 -19, 2009, in San Antonio, to discuss how to improve and sustain high speed Internet access in the Texas public libraries.

Summit participants had the opportunity to build upon the work from the previous summit to further ensure that all Texas public libraries have a meaningful broadband connection. The Texas Opportunity Online Broadband Summit provides an opportunity to understand the value of community partnerships and the possibilities of technology as well as in-depth discussion about possible connectivity solutions and next steps necessary to reach improved connectivity speed.

Currently, more than 200 Texas public library systems lack Internet connections fast enough to meet the most basic needs of patrons, and many more report speeds that are inadequate to meet the true demand of their community. Ironically, some of these public libraries offer the only technology lifeline to their communities.

Both Texas summits were sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of its pilot Opportunity Online broadband grant program. Texas, along with six other states, was invited to participate. The grant program supports public libraries as they seek to improve their broadband connectivity and calls for a broadband sustainability strategy, to be developed by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, to ensure that public libraries continue to improve and maintain adequate connectivity for patrons

The summit included a comprehensive analysis of Texas’ current broadband climate and the future of technology access in Texas public libraries. Stephen Abram, a library futurist, spoke about future library services and applications driven by technology that will influence how Americans use computers and the Internet, and why reliable, sustainable broadband connections in libraries will be essential to ensure library patrons can use these programs to improve their lives.

Keynote speaker Graham Richard, former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana and partner of public libraries, highlighted the importance of public and private partnerships on the local and state level to prioritize funding for improved connectivity in public libraries.

Peggy Rudd, Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s director and state librarian, led the summit and represented the agency.

“Every day we are reminded of the value of Texas’ public libraries,” Rudd said. “Today’s public libraries continue to provide traditional services, but a growing number of patrons depend on library Internet access to apply for jobs, further their education, run businesses or stay connected with families and friends. This summit and grant program will help meet these increasing personal and community needs better by improving library connection speeds.”

Building on dialogue and ideas generated at the summit, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is currently working with an advisory group — including Commissioner Todd Staples of the Texas Department of Agriculture, former Governor Mark White, and Texas State Library and Archives Commission Chairman Sandra J. Pickett — to develop a strategy to increase and sustain broadband connections in all Texas public libraries. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission will now work with libraries across the state to support their Internet connectivity upgrade and create a long-term state sustainability strategy.

“The summit highlights the vital role libraries play in connecting communities to information and knowledge through technology,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “What is needed now is long-term collaboration among government, business, communities, and library leaders to ensure that public libraries can continue to provide the high-speed Internet access their patrons need to improve their lives and thrive.”

Connected Nation worked closely with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to support the event development and execution. For more information about the Texas Opportunity Online Summit, please contact 1-866-882-3081 or [email protected].

Download press release here.

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