When some think of libraries and broadband, they might conjure up pictures of patrons downloading e-books, or nights when huddled masses yearn for faster Wi-Fi so they can complete homework before hypothermia overtakes them. But did you know that libraries are becoming the key to communities getting better, faster broadband?
Libraries directors should be one of the first stakeholders named to your community broadband planning team because libraries are excellent allies for planning, facilitating funding and marketing of your network. Often libraries have the fastest Internet access in town, they can be conduits for state and national broadband funding, and few institutions are as popular as libraries.
“A library should absolutely be part of a planning team,” states Philadelphia’s Library Director Siobhan Reardon. “We know a little bit about building a high-speed high fiber network.” Philadelphia currently has no plans to build a public network, but the library system has some mad skills if the city wants to tap into it. Their network enables each of their 54 library branches in the city’s 142 square miles to harness 100 Mbps, and annually their network serves six million in-person patrons and over 10 million online visits.
A Partner and a Customer
In cities small and large, libraries have a birds-eye view of various technologies and services that patrons use or want to test-drive, and can act as a barometer to help plan for features such as speed and capacity as well as broadband services. They can use broadband tools and their geographically central locations to facilitate planning sessions, as Kansas City libraries did when they helped the city plan for Google (News - Alert) Fiber. Libraries’ patrons represent the entire cross-section of communities, which makes patrons ideal for getting feedback that can determine a network’s success.
Increasingly, libraries are taking on the role of leading communications and technology centers in small and midsize communities and as such, they become one of the community network’s best customers. Together with schools and medical facilities, their use cases can establish benchmarks for the network’s capacity, liability and overhaul performance.
Daniele Loffreda, Industry Advisor for Ciena asks, “What happens, for example, when you try to coordinate frequently sending 3D printer output that involve several data centers, libraries and other area organizations, because that affects broadband traffic.” Libraries are pushing the technology envelope with telepresence, streaming video and audio, and creating tech centers.
A Success Story in Chattanooga
If the history of Chattanooga Public Library is an indicator, broadband teams should develop contingency plans for the network if (when) libraries kick off a technology renaissance.
The library’s maker-space has led and complemented the city’s broadband revolution and technology industry. It morphed into an onramp to venture-funded local high-tech incubators and business accelerators, including the Lamp Post Group, CO.LAB and the Edney Innovation Center. Director Corrine Hill says, “Three years ago I might’ve had a patron with plans to put a person on the moon, and we would have helped as much as we could. Today, if someone wants to put people on the moon and develop software for them to live there, the person will go to Lamp Post from here where they can get money, staff, resources and an ecosystem.”
A Skilled Fundraiser
Don’t forget about libraries’ potential role in facilitating fundraising.
“Libraries are a treasured resource in the community,” observes Katherine Bates, Senior Program Manager at the Urban Libraries Council. “Researchers have found that libraries are the most trusted government agency among constituents, and elected local officials are very pro library. Library administrators, especially in bigger cities, consistently are skilled at securing funds.” Look at what your libraries are accomplishing and how much they could accomplish with better broadband. Identify individuals and organizations with lots of money that recognized the importance of these accomplishments and will fund them.
Broadband planners should understand the importance of the FCC’s (News - Alert) E-rate program in making a dent in broadband build-out costs. E-rate discounts range from 20 percent to 90 percent on eligible build-out services, depending on poverty indicators, geography, and category of services being requested. This can help defray the costs of building the broadband infrastructure that facilitates library operations.
“Eligible libraries can receive support for the lease of fiber, whether lit or dark, from any entity, including but not limited to telecommunications carriers and non-telecommunications carriers, such as research and education networks; regional, state, and local government entities or networks; nonprofits and for profit providers; and utility companies,” states James Bachtell, Attorney -Advisor at the FCC.
The most far-reaching tactic is to combine libraries, schools and hospital/medical facilities into a fundraising triumvirate. It requires a lot of upfront coordination by the communities, as the FCC does not participate in these types of activities, but there can be some significant rewards.
“The municipal, library, school district and healthcare facilities’ IT staffs should scope out a multiyear technology plan that describes a complete, concrete vision of the technology future of these anchor institutions,” states Richard Frank, an IT consultant that has been involved with many projects over the years. This methodology provides a scalable core network that will meet the anchors’ needs and could provide broadband services to residents and businesses. It really gets you the biggest bang for your buck by allowing you to squeeze the most out of your bandwidth investment while still maintaining a quality of the transmission signal.
The library is one of the most vital local government services and it touches people at every economic level and station in life from almost cradle to grave. Yet few people truly understand the full range of roles that libraries play in so many aspects of life, including broadband. This has to change.
Craig Settles is a community broadband analyst and consultant who helps communities plan, implement and market high speed Internet networks. He has written Building the Gigabit City, hosts the radio talk show Gigabit Nation, and delivers the “art of the possible workshops" for community broadband stakeholders.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson