In the next week or so, public libraries in the Hartford region will be receiving checks from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving in amounts up to $30,000 to pay for improvements in their computers and digital technologies.
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is making a lot of friends among area librarians.
Public libraries in the Hartford region will soon receive checks from the foundation in amounts up to $30,000 to pay for improvements in their computers and digital technologies.
The money couldn't be coming at a better time, say librarians, who have seen budgets squeezed dry by the economy even as the public's demand for Internet and wireless access remains unslaked.
The grants, totaling $850,000, were awarded last month on a non-competitive basis, based on individual applications. No local match was required.
"It's a wonderful, wonderful gift. I can't thank them enough for what they are doing," said Gaye Rizzo, director of the Windsor Public Library.
Windsor will receive $29,937 to buy new PCs, laptops, a projector and large-print keyboards to be used to provide computer training for seniors. The training will be offered in small groups and in one-on-one tutorials using high school students.
In Manchester, a $30,000 grant to the Mary Cheney Library will be used to purchase five new desktop computers, two laptops, five iPads, a wireless Wi-Fi transmitter, other accessories and training.
It will give a much-needed boost for a library struggling with older computers, not enough space and demand for access from students, job-seekers and senior citizens, "a cross-section of the community,'' Director Douglas McDonough said. Had the town been required to match the grant, it probably wouldn't have been accepted.
"We're going into the year with a frozen staff vacancy. This is not a year the town could have come up with a 15- or 20- or 30-thousand dollar match,'' he said.
In developing the Library Project, in recognition of the Hartford Foundation's 85th anniversary, the board of directors wanted something that would benefit all 29 communities it serves in Greater Hartford.
Aiding the public libraries seemed the perfect fit, particularly since the Hartford Foundation's first gift, of $982.52 in 1936, was to the cash-strapped Watkinson research library, then housed at the Wadsworth Atheneum.
"The more we thought about it, the more we liked the ideas. Libraries are community centers. Like the Hartford Foundation, libraries have evolved over time,'' said Donna Jolly, the foundation's vice president for communications and external relations.
The grants were targeted specifically to promote digital literacy, recognizing that local libraries have become a community's bridge across the digital divide that separates those who have the means and training to benefit from access to the Internet and wireless technology and those who don't.
Foundation representatives met with town librarians in April to hear their needs. It became apparent that budgets were unable to keep pace with rising demand and technological change. It was also clear that the individual libraries had very different needs, depending on the age of their existing infrastructure, the quality of their existing resources and the needs of the communities they serve, Jolly said.
In Hartford, where only 30 percent of families have home access to the Internet, the Hartford Public Library will be using the money to install advanced early learning workstations in the main library and all the branches. The bilingual workstations will help children ages 2 to 10 develop vocabulary, reading and number skills and computer literacy, assisting Hartford schools in efforts to raise student performance.
"We're hoping to have them in place before school starts,'' said Hartford Public Library CEO Matthew Poland.
In Bloomfield, the grant will be used primarily to upgrade the wiring, cabling and infrastructure at the Prosser Library Wintonbury branch, which serves many of the town's poorer residents who don't have Internet access in their homes, library Director Roberta LaMonaca said.
Mary Hogan, director of the Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill, said the money will be spent on replacing worn-out computers and outdated software, upgrade wiring and improve networking capability.
"We're very excited,'' she said. "We had only $1,800 a year to upgrade technology and we are falling behind other towns'' because of incompatible software, she said.
In Canton, the library is purchasing the equipment needed to establish a virtual computer lab that will be used to provide training workshops and technological instruction to residents of all ages.
"This went way beyond what the town could have funded for us,'' library Director Robert Simon said. "It's a pretty good grant. We're really happy to get it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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