Duluth libraries show how to help keep internet access for all

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By  Adele Krusz, Duluth News Tribune

Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on November 17, 2009

Libraries all around the country are in need of funding, and here’s how one city is making it happen. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to helping libraries provide much-needed internet access to their patrons in the U.S.  and over a dozen countries around the world.  For more information, please see the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study, published by the American Library Association’s Office for Research and Statistics.

Bill Gates wants to give us money. Specifically, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants to give $82,000 to the Duluth Public Library. What the Gates Foundation needs from us in return is a commitment to maintain Internet access at the library into the future. To prove such a commitment, we in Duluth must raise matching funds in the amount of almost $50,000.

Whether we like it or not, computers and the Internet have become a necessity in nearly all parts of our daily lives, and many of us cannot afford a computer or Internet service in our own homes. At the public library, anyone can use a computer, with assistance available, to find information they need.
Duluth Public Library staff members can tell countless stories of people who needed a computer. They were people who lost their jobs and were looking for a new one, those who were applying for unemployment benefits or financial aid, students researching and writing papers and homework assignments, and people trying to repair their car, snow-blower or lawn mower.

There also are grandparents who keep in touch with grandchildren via e-mail on library computers, passengers who need to print bus or airline tickets, and people with vision and hearing disabilities who come in to use specialized services.

Computer classes and services offered at the library open up the world to people working on genealogy, professional advancement, health issues and more.
The library needs the support of the entire community to raise the necessary matching funds. A gift would make Duluth stronger by providing crucial Internet access to everyone. That includes access to government documents and services, educational resources, how-to materials that enable people to help themselves, medical and business processes, electronic communication and networking.

By ensuring Internet access at the Duluth Public Library, we are giving critical skills to our community. In a world that demands ever greater computer involvement, we cannot expect to support jobs and industry unless Internet access is universally available. That access can be provided by the library.
With the Gates Foundation grant, the Duluth Public Library will purchase and maintain new computers at the main library as well as at the West Duluth and Mount Royal branch libraries, machines that otherwise could not be afforded.

The first deadline for $16,000 in matching funds is the end of March. The remaining matching funds must be raised by March 31, 2011. To kick things off, the Friends of the Duluth Public Library is giving $1,000 to the campaign.

Today is Give to the Max Day, Minnesota’s “Day of Giving.” Today, the Saint Paul Foundation, Minneapolis Foundation and Bush Foundation have committed $500,000 in matching contributions to support community needs in Minnesota and to cover transaction fees so that 100 percent of all donations go to nonprofit organizations. At giveMN.org, search for Friends of the Duluth Public Library to find the library’s matching grant project. It’s under the title, “Open the Gates to Lifelong Learning.”

By helping the library meet this challenge, Duluth can keep open the “Gates” to lifelong learning.

Adele Krusz of Duluth is a member of Friends of the Duluth Public Library.

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