The Alabama Supercomputer Authority: Connecting Libraries and Communities in Alabama
Already serving 600 locations and over 550,000 students, the Alabama Supercomputer Authority is utilizing its "Alabama Research and Education Network" (AREN) network to expand its capabilities with a project to connect 144 public libraries across the state of Alabama.
"Our focus is technology and supporting education. Libraries are integral to that mission, and so this project was a perfect fit for us.” — Walter Overby, CEO of the Alabama Supercomputer Authority
In recognition of the critical resources libraries provide and the pivotal role they play in community development, the legislature passed new funding last October to support AREN building these new connections. The project includes upgrading libraries’ bandwidth to 100 Gbps, replacing hardware, and adding/extending WiFi capabilities.
“Our focus is technology and supporting education. Libraries are integral to that mission, and so this project was a perfect fit for us,” said Walter Overby, CEO of the Alabama Supercomputer Authority.
With many of the libraries in highly rural parts of the state, the new connections will provide critical community bandwidth as well as the ability to extend WiFi access to library parking lots. From students studying after school, to people applying for jobs or benefit programs, libraries are providing essential resources the community needs.
“We are so excited about this opportunity for our community. Many of our residents don’t have [internet] access at home and being able to provide consistent and fast connections is incredibly important,” said Elise Nodar, librarian for the Magnolia Springs Public Library. “Tons of people depend on us to be able to apply for jobs, access learning resources, and fill out their tax forms in addition to accessing books and other media. Being able to extend that access to the parking lot makes an even bigger difference.”
This is particularly true amidst the COVID-19 social distancing requirements. The extended WiFi provides a safe option for community members to access the internet from their cars.
Seventy percent of the library internet connections are complete, and the hope is to reach the remaining libraries by the end of the second quarter. Since many of the libraries reside in small rural communities, AREN is planning to make a second trip to many of the locations.
“We’re going back to several sites that are up and running to lend our technical expertise to make sure everything is working smoothly and staff can take full advantage of their new technology,” added Overby. Getting libraries connected and comfortable is just the beginning. The Alabama Supercomputer Authority hopes to support local librarians by helping them expand digital services for the community in the future.
Nodar shares that her library in Magnolia Springs hopes to develop and implement more digital learning programs for residents as they get more comfortable with their new capacity. As central community gathering places, Alabama libraries can use their new connections to serve their communities in new and exciting ways.
About Alabama Supercomputer Authority
Established roughly 25 years ago, the Alabama Research and Education Network (AREN) acts as a statewide consortium supporting public K12 education, colleges, and universities to provide high speed internet connections, supercomputing resources, and E-rate services.