In previous blogs we discussed discrepancies between rural, urban, and suburban public libraries in their access to and use of broadband. We also pointed out that despite a number of issues and difficulties in providing high-quality rural broadband and information technology (IT) services, individuals can and do make a huge difference in minimizing the impacts from the digital divide.
For today’s blog, we interviewed Sherry Millington, Technical Services Coordinator, and manager of IT at the Suwannee River Regional Library that covers three rural counties in north central Florida. Some high points from our chat about how the library system maximizes broadband impact and minimizes costs include:
- Establish a triage and general maintenance program throughout the system. Basic issues can be solved in the individual branch, or if not, then they go to the county IT person, and then to Sherry. One person in each branch is responsible for conducting a range of workstation and IT-related maintenance activities.
- Use existing web-based resources. Sherry specifically pointed out all the excellent education and other resources at TechSoup – for example.
- Maximize use of E-rate. Her system qualifies for 80-90% E-rate discounts which are essential in supporting IT in the library system.
- Recognize and support customer broadband needs. For example, each branch in the system has an “E-gov” laptop that is loaded with resources, software, job search information etc. and is “ready to go.”
- Find free workstations and equipment. Sherry noted a number of local government agencies and organizations that, when they replace workstations and equipment, will give them to the library – this is especially important since their replacement schedule is much more often than at the library.
- Check for deals with area Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on a regular basis to get the fastest speeds and cheapest costs possible.
- Rely on a regional consortium if available. The Suwannee River Regional Library is a member of an outstanding multi-type library consortium: Northeast Florida Library Information Network (NEFLIN). NEFLIN hosts the library system’s website, provides email services, and offers regular and ongoing training sessions – among other benefits.
- Work the local political system. The library system has a history of administrators who work closely and effectively with local government officials and other key opinion leaders to promote the library.
Promoting the library system also entails making comparisons between the system and selected peer library systems regarding various Internet support and services as reported in the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study.
Sherry is also a board member for the North Florida Broadband Authority NFBA) which has a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program award to establish a high-speed WiMax network in this rural region. Here she is able to be a visible and credible supporter of the role of rural libraries in broadband deployment.
These are only some of the highlights from a quick chat with Sherry – and clearly her enthusiasm and dedication contribute significantly to the broadband success in her rural library system. One person can and does make a big difference in the library’s deployment of, access to, and use of high-speed broadband.
Other readers of this blog are likely to have additional advice that can maximize a library’s broadband impact and reduce costs – leave a comment so we all can learn more!