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Notes from Executive Director Scott Garrison – March 2021

Especially in these times, citizens need robust broadband Internet access, as millions have been forced to work, attend school, and connect socially, online. Many libraries, library organizations, and others are doing what they can to help, and there are opportunities to get involved.

For decades, many have pointed to a significant digital divide in the United States, between citizens who have access to modern information and communication technology, and those who do not. According to the American Library Association (ALA)’s broadband advocacy page,“Nearly 33 million U.S. households do not use the [I]nternet at home, and nearly twice that number of people in the U.S. have low levels of digital readiness. Digital opportunity gaps disproportionately impact low-income families, rural residents and tribal communities, African Americans, Latinos, and people with disabilities. The leading reasons for these gaps are lack of awareness of the benefits of broadband, affordability, and lack of digital literacy.”

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition promotes and advocates broadband for “anchor institutions” and their communities, on several dimensions they include in their 2021 Policy Roadmap. SHLB boasts a wide variety of members, including ALA, the Library of Michigan, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), individual libraries, school systems, health systems, local and state broadband offices, and many others.

Connected Nation offers a number of services including mapping and analysis that they intend to help increase broadband availability and utilization. They have statewide initiatives including in Michigan (see WiFi map), in partnership with the Michigan Public Service Commission and several others that they hope will improve broadband access, adoption, and use throughout the state. They have also gathered some news reports about broadband in Indiana, and have a podcast series called Keeping Connected.

The state of Indiana’s Indiana Broadband site has links to information including broadband basics, funding resources, and several maps including the Indiana Broadband Map and Indiana Public WiFi Locations. The Indiana Library Federation (ILF) has a page that summarizes issues of broadband access, quality, and affordability for Indiana residents (including a public library WiFi map).

Michigan’s Merit Network offers the Michigan Moonshot initiative, as an effort to ending the digital divide. The program invites “citizen scientists” to help gather data about Internet in communities. Merit also hosted a webinar entitled A Community Guide to Solving the Digital Divide on February 24. The Michigan Library Association (MLA) includes addressing the digital divide and expanding broadband in their Advocacy and Legislative Committee’s 2020-2021 Action Plan.

ALA is also monitoring and advocating for a variety of broadband-related issues, including around digital literacy. Additional ALA resources include:

It’s been great to hear about schools in Indiana and Michigan who have deployed school buses equipped with WiFi service to help kids with less connectivity learn online. Public libraries in both states (IN, MI) also stepped up in 2020, offering more circulating WiFi hotspots, and expanding WiFi to library building parking lots.

At MCLS, we’ve partnered with Granite Telecommunications to offer hotspots and data plans (including for school buses). Libraries have long provided a gateway to digital literacy for citizens, and we want to help library staff achieve greater digital literacy, also. Following our popular Foundations of Digital Literacy virtual workshops, we are now offering Unlocking the Secrets of a Digital Literacy Plan for Library Staff for Michigan library staff, in partnership with the Library of Michigan.

Though the digital divide and lack of broadband connectivity create many challenges for millions, it’s clear that many in the states we serve and our nation truly care about addressing these challenges. I hope you take something useful away from the links above, and are inspired to become involved in doing what you can to help.

I’d also appreciate your help: I’m always looking for timely and relevant topics for libraries of all types, for this monthly piece in our MCLS newsletter. My thanks to Lance Werner, Library Director at Kent District Library, for suggesting broadband as a topic for this month. I’d be happy to hear any ideas you may have, at