Larra Clark, ALA’s Deputy Director of the Office for Information Technology Policy [OITP], recently shared information about the new “Grow2Gig+” initiative and the release of a document called “Connecting Anchor Institutions: A Vision of Our Future,” which explains the value and need for high-capacity broadband for our community anchor institutions—including schools and libraries. This report is the first of several documents outlining a policy plan for reaching the 1 gigabit-per-second (1 Gbps) broadband speed goal set out in the National Broadband Plan. The initiative is led by the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, of which the ALA is a founding member.
I love the term “Anchor Institutions” because it is a term that represents well the many ways that libraries, schools, and healthcare facilities provide the anchor that citizens can turn to when they need information, skilled providers, and safe facilities. These are the institutions that everyone in a community can rely on to be there for them with the resources they need, the staffing to help them, and the administration to organize the resources effectively for their use.
Broadband – robust high-speed Internet access – brought to these anchor institutions provides widespread digital equity across a community. This allows people to locate and use the online information they need to take care of themselves and their families—whether that is finding a home, getting the healthcare they need, gaining an education, or communicating with family members in distant places.
What does this report have to do with us school librarians? Those of us working in schools have no doubt at all that there is a need for reliable, consistent, and fast Internet; we face 8+ students crowded around the printer with their iPads in hand waiting for their document to print, while another 25 are in one area of the library waiting for their chosen website to open, and classrooms of students elsewhere in the school are trying to log in.
Even though there is no mention of the school library as separate from the schools within which they lie, there is a lot of information in the report that school librarians can use as advocacy support because school librarians provide many of the services mentioned in the report directly to their students, faculty, and parents.
Several things can be accomplished with this information. Add this report to your stack of advocacy support material. Some examples:
1. The vision paper outlines several activities that support those things we do in school libraries including:
Community Anchors provide digital equity
School libraries are often the only place that students of poverty have access to print and online resources. The report points out that “23% of school districts do not meet the minimum goals for Internet access, which leaves 21 million children without enough bandwidth for digital learning” [p.2]. Our schools and school libraries need high-speed broadband to effectively serve our students.
Broadband elevates civic engagement
Students learn about government, politics, debate, history and civics in schools. With effective online access to information and civics curriculum, students can participate in mock trials, inter-school debates, and other forms of civic engagement.
Broadband enables libraries to offer virtual field trips
With our global economy, we need to create global connections. High-speed, reliable and consistent Internet allows schools to engage in worldwide conversations.
Libraries create digital creative commons and maker spaces
The entrepreneurial spirit is created by questioning, investigating, creating, and collaboration. Creative connections between libraries, classrooms, businesses, and community institutions allow students to talk with experts and other investigators as they explore. With roughly one-third of all Americans without high-speed access at home (http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslissues/advocacy/AASL_infographic_strongstudents-2013.pdf), students often rely on their school libraries for Internet access.
2. The paper also highlights what anchor institutions offer when supported by good Internet service, which can be used in school library advocacy by advancing the national goal called for in the plan. You are not alone in your desire for robust Internet access. Collaborations with the other anchor institutions in your town can increase access for everyone.
3. When advocating for your school library, you can build the case that school libraries are a part of anchor services – essential services for all students; and your school is one component of the larger, vital group of institutions that create change for individuals and communities.
The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition has sponsored this series of papers and will be sharing them with policy makers. With our help in spreading the word to our own local policymakers – including our own school boards, administrators, and legislators – we can help decision makers understand how a strong Internet connection powers the work of school librarians to advance student learning and achievement.
Additional policy recommendations will be added to the Broadband Action Plan in June. Read (and share!) all the materials here: http://www.shlb.org/action-plan.
Author: Connie Williams
NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!