A key element in libraries’ growing role in workforce development has been the expansion of broadband capacity through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). A number of librarians explained Saturday at the American Library Association’s Conference in New Orleans that BTOP grants have provided the means to introduce critical new services and applications that their patrons want but which the libraries had been previously unable to provide because of limited bandwidth.
“We are working to expand capacity, not just the physical capacity but also the training capacity, the capacity of libraries to support and educate their patrons in their communities,” said Laura Breeden, the program director for public computing and broadband adoption at the U.S. Department of Commerce. “And were also supporting sustainable adoption projects, meaning working in communities with groups who are very much lagging on the tail end of the adoption curve because they are low income, because they are immigrants, because they are disabled, because they do not understand the benefits of the Internet or how they might use it,” Breeden said.
The Department of Commerce oversees the BTOP program though its National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which received $4.7 billion for broadband connectivity in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). NTIA’s program specifically mentions libraries as entities eligible for funding, and the ALA has been encouraging libraries to explore their eligibility. (There also is a broadband program called the Rural Utilities Service within the Department of Agriculture for which libraries are eligible.)