Inclusive Gigabit Libraries Report

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Executive Summary

Through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we provided a series of continuing education forums to examine how public libraries can play a role in shaping the future of the Internet through the development of next generation broadband networks. We partnered formally with the Office of Information Technology Policy at the American Library Association and US Ignite. These events helped library leaders and their stakeholders to develop ideas and strategies to implement applications based on case studies focused on a growing number of library systems that are early adopters of next generation networks. These libraries are participants in US Ignite, an initiative of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation. US Ignite’s ongoing goal is to “drive new business opportunities and accelerating U.S. leadership in the adoption of ultra-fast broadband and software-defined networks in communities nationwide”. US Ignite also aims to open opportunities for industry, government academia, and the general public to discover innovative software applications designed to run on smart, high-speed computer networks to improve how to manufacture products, protect the environment, produce and consume energy, educate and train the workforce, enhance civic engagement and participation, and advance healthcare. IMLS supports US Ignite by “helping libraries and museums use high-speed broadband to improve education, workforce, and health outcomes for millions of Americans… to spur innovation in the creation of tools that enhance access, use, and management of digital assets”.

We asked, how can libraries, as anchor institutions, leverage high-speed, next generation networks and applications to benefit communities? How do public libraries that serve almost the entire American population transform themselves into 21st century institutions of the future to provide critical, relevant services incorporating state of the art technologies and digital services to create better communities?   Library leaders participating in the Inclusive Gigabit Libraries project examined what the US Ignite initiative means for libraries and how libraries can utilize next-generation networks and new applications to serve the public. Throughout the course of the project, we provided 10 continuing education forums across the US on this topic and reached approximately 1,500 library leaders. We learned from our forums and research interviews that libraries are critical stakeholders in the future of the Internet for several reasons.

Libraries have been and remain among the most central information institutions in the United States. They are situated at a crucial intersection of people, technology and information, capable of leadership in new high-speed information ecosystems. Increasingly, libraries rely on broadband connectivity coupled with redesigned organizational processes to provide Internet-enabled services to meet the individual human development needs of its communities.

Libraries are highly dependent on the Internet and are expanding access to the Internet. According to results of the 2011 Digital Inclusion Survey, public libraries across the U.S. are making a big impact in their communities. During 2011, public libraries provided services to 299.9 million people, about 95 percent of the U.S. population. Approximately 91% of libraries offer wireless Internet, and over 60 percent of public libraries are the only provider of free public Internet in their communities. Most importantly, 76 percent help customers apply for employment using the Internet.

Since 2009, The US is experiencing a wave of new investment in broadband networks to expand connections to cities to deliver high-speed, high-capacity Internet service to community anchor institutions. With the deployment of high-speed broadband networks to libraries and community anchor institutions through the American Recovery and Restoration Act and a growing number of ISPs making investments, many library leaders are developing new strategies to explore Internet-enabled options to deliver services and library experiences.

Libraries with a high-speed network create opportunities for 21st Century learning, discovery, and co-invention. Libraries of the future will serve a critical role in advancing information and communications technology in providing communities with the knowledge, tools, and skills to promote educational advancement, economic development, and civic engagement. Hwang and Horowitt describe “keystone institutions” such as public libraries, as an environment that “encourages disconnected people to self-organize into greater form”, and that “support the social and cultural fabric essential to innovation. These keystone institutions “play the role of nurturing the social interactions that turn basic ingredients of capital, labor and ideas, into vibrant, sustainable innovation systems that can enable entrepreneurs, as well as cities and regions, to attain new heights of innovation and productivity.”

Through this initiative, technological breakthroughs will provide an Internet infrastructure that will grow in concert with the evolving information demands of the public. The next-generation applications enabled by gigabit networks enable opportunities for libraries to create more digitally inclusive communities. From Makerspaces to 3D printers, ultra-high speed networks allow libraries to interact with their communities like never before.

In this report, we share with you the details of the continuing education forums. We provide detailed case studies that we compiled from site visits to leading examples, including the CENIC Network in California, Cuyahoga County Public Library, and Chattanooga Public Library.

The case studies highlight the successes and challenges libraries incur when implementing innovative services and how they overcome them in order to transition into a 21st Century organization – a library of the future to remain relevant, provide services to advance their communities, and sustain and increase their customer base. We identified a common thread among each case study relating to organizational innovation and transformation and the steep learning curve experienced by each library is discussed throughout the report. Key themes surrounding change and reorganization in organizational processes, staff skill and training, technology development, and forward-thinking leadership embedded in cultural change are also discussed.

Click HERE for Full Inclusive Gigabit Libraries Report


Inclusive Gigabit Libraries: Learn, Discuss, and Brainstorm is a U.S Institute of Museum and Library Services, (IMLS)-grant funded continuing education project focused on libraries and their stakeholders to leverage emerging high-speed networks for social inclusion. Research for this project was conducted by the Center for Digital Inclusion at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois.

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