Alaska Department of Education & Early Development

Networking Alaska Public Libraries

Spearheading an expansive collaboration between groups including libraries, state agencies, colleges, healthcare networks, small businesses, and nonprofit foundations, the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development proposes to enhance public computer centers at more than 100 libraries across the state while launching an innovative free public videoconferencing network available to all Alaska public library users. Many populations in the surrounding community speak the indigenous languages of Alaska rather than English at home, so the project intends to hire bilingual support staff as part of its broader outreach to economically vulnerable populations, including Native Alaskans, other English-as-a-second-language residents, low-income individuals, and at-risk youth. The project also proposes to connect the libraries with limited terrestrial connectivity options to an affordable, sustainable satellite broadband network.

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BTOP In Action
Image: Launch attendees review a map of the 104 Alaska OWL libraries.

The Alaska Department of Education held a project launch meeting in Anchorage on December 15 and 16, 2010, for project partners and librarians from across the state. The $8.2 million Alaska OWL: Online with Libraries project will enhance public computer centers at 104 libraries in Alaska. In addition to providing faster Internet connections to these libraries, many in remote rural areas, Alaska OWL will establish an innovative public videoconferencing network for a number of purposes ranging from online training in remote villages to recording and preserving indigenous languages.

This collaborative effort primarily funded by the BTOP and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will also use funds to extend library hours and create jobs. Currently, many local libraries are open for less than 20 hours each week. However, with the help of BTOP funds, these libraries will be able stay open for an additional five hours per week and serve approximately an additional 12,000 users. The Alaska Department of Education is in the process of hiring four employees to assist in launching the project and expects to hire an additional 65 part-time employees as Internet aides. To see local news coverage, please visit here.
Last Updated: October 19, 2011

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