By Pat Rutkowski | New Britain Public Library Director at July 1, 2011 | 8:05 am | Print
Last week, the American Library Association held their annual conference in New Orleans. Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, greeted attendees via video during the opening. Once again Melinda stated the importance of libraries and the tireless work they do to improve lives in their communities by providing necessary resources to people during tough times. The Gates have been true, staunch supporters of libraries.
Unfortunately, give current economic conditions, many libraries face shrinking budgets even as their use grows. Staff receives less training in technology skills, computers become outdated sooner than budgets allow replacement, and Internet connections can’t handle the high-speed audio and video requirements for distance education, research, and other activities. Libraries are struggling to stay up to speed in the face of too many library patrons and too little Internet bandwidth.
Still today, 40 percent of Americans–often those with lower incomes and education levels–lack online access at home. For many, the local public library is the only place to get connected. Use of computers and the Internet at libraries is at an all-time high. People come to do research for school and work, find jobs, get government information, and keep in touch. This is certainly true in our community.
Our library owes the Gates Foundation much gratitude. Thanks to their funding, we were able to add public computers and computer classes to the library in 2002. Before the first grant, we were operating with a handful of public internet computers which hardly met our patrons’ needs. Computer use was free but there were waiting lines – sometimes long ones. Expectations were also that the staff was computer savvy. At that point, librarians were self taught and, to be honest, much of the staff didn’t even own a computer.
Since then much has changed – in 2002, the Gates Foundation gave us funding for 25 new public computers and the training of two staff in hardware and software technology. Each department at the main library and the branches now had computers for public use. Staff received training and free computer classes were available to patrons.
Last year, the Gates Foundation again came to our rescue with funding that enabled us to add computers, update computers with new hardware and software. Many of the public computers were still the originals from the first grant.
Computer use continues to grow at our library. We’ve come a long way since we first offered computers with the Sheehan Computer Center in 1996, thanks to a bequest by Richard W. Sheehan in memory of his parents, William J. and Mary O. Sheehan. In the last decade, we have seen a 346% increase in computer use and an increase of over 40% in patron visits. The library is a hot spot in more than one way.
This community uses its library well! Thank you Bill and Melinda and thank you to the New Britain community.