Montana: Moving Toward Gigabit Libraries
With over 100 libraries participating in the Toward Gigabit Libraries toolkit project, Montana is empowering libraries to expand broadband access in their communities. The Toward Gigabit Libraries toolkit project, funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), created and implemented a toolkit designed to help public and tribal librarians learn about their current broadband infrastructure and internal information technology environment.
Implementing the toolkit enabled Montana libraries to gather accurate data about their current broadband capabilities. Despite federal recommendations that libraries serving up to 50,000 people should have at minimum a 100 Mbps internet connection, fewer than five libraries in the entire state meet this speed level. In fact, 30 percent of Montana libraries connect at less than 10 Mbps.
Jennie Stapp, the Montana State Librarian, spearheaded the initiative for all Montana libraries to complete the toolkit. Other tools are available that address broadband data collection, and libraries had done their best to collect some of the data, such as broadband speeds and hardware models. Stapp said these approaches were a little “hit or miss.”
“The gigabit toolkit is more accessible in terms of the amount of time and investment it takes for a library to complete (it), especially for small or rural libraries that just don't have either the time or the technical know-how,” Stapp said.
The toolkit’s accessibility, coupled with its potential to collect valuable data, prompted the State Library of Montana to move forward with rolling it out across the state. The State Library hired a contractor through Saddle Peak Technologies to visit every library in the state. In total, the contractor visited 115 libraries (all but two) throughout Montana. Its ability to work with each librarian to gather consistent data about speed, hardware, and local providers was key in producing an accurate and powerful statewide data set.
As Stapp recognized, this work provided a reliable and consistent way to implement the toolkit and collect data, which was especially important given that most of the state’s libraries lack in-house technology professionals. “Fewer than a dozen of the libraries in the entire state have a dedicated IT person, most rely on either their local governments or a volunteer to provide that support,” she said.
Thanks to the toolkit, Montana libraries are setting themselves up for success. The State Library currently is analyzing the data collected, with a plan to have a final report by February. Ultimately, the State Library hopes to use the data to develop a program to help libraries consistently refresh hardware and negotiate reduced rates with commercial providers. Stapp noted that an investment in broadband is key for libraries to be able to provide innovative programs and services like virtual reality and distance learning.
To learn more about the Toward Gigabit Libraries Toolkit, visit www.internet2.edu/tgl.