Montana librarians will drive hundreds of miles to help a rural patrons access the Internet for free. In other vast stretches of Montana, librarians will haul carloads of books to “neighboring” libraries to accommodate patrons’ reading wishes.
The impact of libraries on the lives of Montanans is the topic of a three-part video series filmed as part of the Broadband and Technology Opportunity Program, a project federally funded by money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Belgrade Community Library Director Gale Bacon was interviewed for the film series. She talked about the Belgrade library being a hub for community functions.
“I think we’re a safe place for people to come in and step into the technology world wherever they’re at.” Bacon said. “I believe the library exists for the community, not the other way around.”
Along with the film series, BTOP has provided computers, software, network hardware, staff funding, broadband upgrades, and digital literacy training to 43 public libraries. That translates into providing 700,000 Montana library patrons with internet access each year, 400 new computers in labs around the state, 1,300 hours of digital literacy training for 900 librarians and technology programs for 55,000 library patrons.
One of the film segments shows the Web on Wheels, a bus that provides Internet access to rural residents of Missoula County. Missoula Librarian Jodi Christophe said the WOW bus is vital for Montanans who would otherwise have no computer of Internet access.
Librarians say the mobile computer lab is also necessary because 30 percent of library patrons are 55 years of age or older. Most of senior demographic feels uncomfortable using new technology and the Internet. The WOW bus helps solve that problem by bringing free Internet to bucolic swathes of Montana.
The WOW bus also delivers books to customers and stops at senior citizen centers to help elderly patrons learn how to interact with family using Internet communication.
A Polson librarian in the videos says that when a family decides whether to set down roots in a town, the first place they go is a library because it is the “community’s living room.”
If the Belgrade Community Library is the city’s living room, it’s attracting record numbers of visitors with many new programs. One of those programs is Book-A-Tech. Library patrons sign up to spend a half-hour with Rebekah Kamp, the in-house tech specialist.
Kamp helps people set up email accounts, learn their way around the free online library and download books to e-readers. She hopes she will soon be asked to help craft resumes.
Other library “techs” are featured in the films as an example of how libraries are staying relevant in the cyberspace age. The series as a whole is meant to show how Montanans use libraries to enrich their lives.
From a small-business owner to a homeschooling mom, the films give a picture of the changing role of libraries in Montana communities large and small. The films are available at mls.mt.gov.
“The films show how we’re coming together as libraries,” Bacon said. “And they explore how we each look at the needs of moving forward with each of our libraries.”