[Libs-Or] Where we are failing our kids

Diedre Conkling diedre08 at gmail.com
Wed Jan 30 15:51:19 PST 2013


Where we are failing our kids
Posted on January 30, 2013 by oitp

[image: libraries online]Here's a story that slaps you in the face. An
eighth grader is working on a school paper and using Internet-based
resources to presumably do some of his research. Good so far, right?
Unfortunately the *Wall Street Journal* article, "The Web-Deprived Study at
McDonald's*," *takes a hard turn and shows us the student's Internet
options mostly run out after his local public library closes.

Why is Joshua, the eighth grader, doing homework at a fast-food restaurant,
and how could this situation be improved? We can all agree that there
should be more options for Joshua and his fellow students. It's a painful
reality to accept that some students have to go to a restaurant or café to
finish an assignment - particularly since more than 40 percent of library
patrons use technology to pursue educational activities, including homework
help and online classes. Even though the Cintronelle (Ala.) Memorial
Library has nearly tripled the number of computers available and is open 30
hours per week, more is needed. In rural areas 70 percent of libraries are
the only provider of free public computers and Internet access - something
that is critical when many students not only have no home Internet but may
lack a laptop, using a mobile device to access the online world.

In 2012, 89 percent <http://www.ala.org/research/plftas/2011_2012> of the
nation's nearly 17,000 public libraries provided Wi-Fi access, and about
three-quarters of these reported an increase in the use of their Wi-Fi.
Since most of these libraries keep their Wi-Fi signal on after hours, we
are very familiar with the "parking lot" uses of people who don't have
other Internet access options. Today, nearly all libraries provide public
access computers staffed with knowledgeable librarians who, in many
instances, work closely with school librarians and classroom teachers to
make sure their resources and databases complement the ones in the K12
schools. These librarians, school and public, can help Joshua locate the
very best resources, teach him how to evaluate online information, and
guide him to collaborative production tools to compose high-quality papers.
While computer and Internet access are an essential starting point, trained
staff and relevant resources are also vital.

Unfortunately, because of the economic downturn affecting so many families
and causing some to discontinue Internet access, public libraries also are
feeling the stress. This past year, 57 percent of public libraries
had flat or reduced operating budgets, and in the previous year 23
states, including Joshua's, reported cuts in state funding. Although public
libraries may want to increase hours, upgrade Internet speeds, add
computers, provide mobile services and serve as community Wi-Fi hotspots,
they face significant challenges.

If you only consider library infrastructure, many public libraries depend
on E-rate <http://www.districtdispatch.org/category/e-rate/> discounts to
take care of the recurring costs for Internet access. E-rate is one of the
Universal Service Fund buckets and provides schools and libraries with
discounts on telecommunications and the internal connections necessary to
put those services to work. Libraries (and schools) receive discounts for
Internet connections based on need and a somewhat complicated application
process. Even with these discounts, many libraries find themselves strapped
in paying the non-discounted portion and struggle to maintain or improve
their technology. In 2012, we see for the first time that the demand for
E-rate funding for Internet and telecommunications services alone claimed
all of the available funds and it was only through carefully structuring
the available funds that the neediest of applicants could receive support
for internal connections. The way the E-rate fund has been maxed out (it
has a cap around $2.25 billion adjusted annually for inflation) in recent
years, not very many public libraries and generally the poorest schools are
receiving discounts for the internal connections required to bring the
Internet from the building entry point to the public computers. In Idaho,
for example, no libraries have received such funding since 1999, a year or
so after the program started. Clearly the inflation adjustment which only
brings the amount of E-rate dollars available to both schools and libraries
to about 3 percent more than it was in 1998 when the fund size was
established is not enough and must be further increased.

[image: french fries and wifi]So what's the answer? There are many shorter
and longer-term possibilities. Maybe local government officials should make
funding library technology a higher priority to support their future
workers. Maybe school administrators and school boards should commit to
supporting extended school library hours staffed by librarians. Maybe there
should be more pressure on Internet providers to make their broadband more
affordable for families, as well as institutions such as libraries. Maybe
there should be more pressure from the federal government to push
telecommunications providers into rural areas where it's difficult to make
a business case for trenching fiber. Maybe government agencies should
provide funding for programs that bring technology, resources, and trained
staff into neighborhoods where resources are lacking such as Philadelphia's
KEYSPOT <https://www.phillykeyspots.org/> program. Maybe foundations and
corporate philanthropic institutions should increase their interest in
funding local initiatives that create enticing after-school opportunities
for our K12 students such as those in libraries that are modeled on
Chicago's very successful YOUmedia <http://youmedia.org/> program or create
opportunities to bring Wi-Fi into needy neighborhoods like the Free Library
of Philadelphia and its

A book isn't enough to meet the current research and educational needs of
our students and broader community. Libraries are part of the solution, and
we need more and better support for public, school and college libraries to
support learning beyond the classroom with other community partners.

Our students should not have to order fries as part of their homework
assignments. We all need to step it up so this story has a better sequel.


*Diedre Conkling**
Lincoln County Library District
P.O. Box 2027
Newport, OR 97365
Phone & Fax: 541-265-3066
Work email**: **diedre at lincolncolibrarydist.org*<diedre at lincolncolibrarydist.org>
Home email: **diedre08 at gmail.com* <diedre08 at gmail.com>

 "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change
your attitude."--Maya Angelou
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