The State Library of Arizona was invited to participate in Internet2’s pilot program “Toward Gigabit Libraries,” funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The program, which is targeted to rural and tribal libraries with limited IT support available to the library, is designed to improve and enhance library staff understanding of the library’s broadband connection and to empower libraries to advocate for high-quality Internet access and digital services for their communities. This takes the form of a “Broadband 101” toolkit that teaches library staff how to identify the components of their library’s connection and computer resources, with prompts about connection quality and reliability, network configuration, and funding sources. The technical advisor and the library staff member(s) will also identify short and long-term actions to be taken. Libraries are often the only source of free Internet access for many people, but small libraries–particularly those in rural areas–face capacity challenges which make it difficult to improve service. By working through the toolkit, library staff will be equipped with the knowledge about their building’s infrastructure and be positioned to articulate their specific needs to leadership and funders.
As both a training tool and a documentation tool, the broadband toolkit is well-aligned with the Library Development branch of the State Library of Arizona’s mission to empower libraries. Without an understanding of network configuration and broadband capacity, libraries are unable to argue for more robust service, or even verify that they are getting the speed that they pay for. Additionally, going through this broadband toolkit can be an entry into the E-rate application process, which will offer up a funding stream to augment broadband capacity. Facilitating the toolkit will also allow the State Library to get a sense of the rates and quality of Internet access for rural and tribal libraries, and identify opportunities for further support.
I promoted the broadband assessments at the Arizona Tribal Libraries Digital Inclusion Summit in September as a way to get starting on digital inclusion work. We have five site visits with tribal libraries scheduled for December and one for January. Representatives from Internet2 will attend the first two visits, and then I will facilitate the rest, along with some colleagues from the State Library. After the pilot ends, Internet2 will revamp the toolkit and distribute it to library agencies. After our participation in the pilot, we will determine if the State Library can continue facilitating the broadband toolkit throughout the state.