Montana State Library

Enhancing Computing Centers at Montana Public Libraries

Third party research indicates that Montana’s adoption of broadband services lags behind the rest of the nation, a problem made more challenging by the state’s low population density and expansive geography. In many cases, public libraries are the only feasible source of broadband Internet access in remote communities. The Montana State Library proposes to provide more access at faster speeds to 42 local libraries in 29 counties across the state within reach of 86 percent of Montana’s population. Participating libraries were chosen based on demonstrated library need and geographic challenges, as well as their ability and willingness to sustain project investments.

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BTOP In Action
A view of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library – South Branch

Montana State Library opened two new public computer centers at libraries in the cities of Butte and Billings. These centers support a statewide effort to provide affordable broadband, computer skills, and workforce development training to senior citizens, job seekers, and young adults. Each library provides new computers and digital literacy classes that are tailored specifically to the needs of its patrons.

In December 2010, damage from a fire caused the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library to close and open a temporary site in the Butte Plaza Mall. Along with traditional library services, visitors to the site can access broadband Internet on new laptops and workstations. Patrons also can attend a variety of digital literacy classes supported by BTOP funds, including computer basics, Internet fundamentals, and email techniques.

The temporary site, deemed the Library’s “South Branch,” was able to provide library services to its community members while the main branch underwent renovations. As of June 2011, more than 579 community members participated in the South Branch’s 53 digital literacy workshops and approximately 2,000 users each month utilize the new workstations. Additionally, a survey of visitors revealed a desire to make the facility permanent even after the main Butte-Silver library became fully operational. The Butte-Silver Library has been able to meet the needs of its community and keep computer centers at both libraries fully operational. The main library houses 10 new workstations and offers digital literacy trainings.

The Montana State University Billings College of Technology’s computer center offers 20 new laptops that patrons can use to search for jobs, learn computer basics, and work on school-related assignments. Visitors also can participate in digital literacy classes that cover topics such as computer basics and Microsoft Windows® software fundamentals. This community library is a joint academic-public library project between Montana State University and Parmly Billings Library.

The Montana State Library is working to provide more access to broadband Internet at faster speeds to 42 local libraries in 29 counties across the state within reach of 86 percent of Montana’s population. To sustain broadband adoption across the state, the project is deploying approximately 195 new computers and upgrading another 149 in 42 local libraries across 29 counties. As of June 2011, 328 new and refurbished computers have been distributed, serving more than 16,220 users per week. Participating libraries also partner with local organizations to create targeted marketing campaigns that will reach local constituents. For example, the Butte-Silver Bow Library partnered with AARP to promote its computer skills classes and increase participation among senior residents.

Last Updated: October 17, 2011

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