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New grants give local libraries support in bridging digital divide

Cori Lichtenberg, library technical assistant at the Kent Library, cleans a computer station on Friday, March 5. She's wiping a chair with a cloth.
Ed Ronco
/
KNKX
Cori Lichtenberg, library technical assistant at the Kent Library, cleans a computer station on Friday, March 5.

Author Ray Bradbury once said, “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” 

Now, Washington state is getting nearly $4 million for tribal, public and academic libraries as well as museums that have been hurt during the pandemic. It’s federal funding from the American Rescue Plan set up by the Institute of Museum and Library services.

Mike Buschman with the state library division of the Secretary of State’s office says many libraries continued to operate online during the pandemic, but that “really exposed the gap there with people who don’t have connectivity, don’t have good broadband, don’t have devices to use them, don’t know how to use those devices effectively.”

He says grants will become available to help strengthen Wi-Fi capabilities and other digital efforts.    

“Some may choose to do things like lend portable hotspots. Some may choose to extend their broadband effectively. Some may want to purchase devices that they can lend out to their to their users,” Buschman said.

“They might develop programs that help users that have just gotten devices – like a lot of devices have gone to schools in the last year just to school families and maybe starting programs that help them know how better to use those devices effectively. And so all of those things are in the purview of funding for this.”  

He says initial queries showed hundreds of libraries statewide are ready to apply for the help. They can begin applying June 14.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.