Gov. Jack Markell and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn recently announced that Delaware will receive $1.9 million in federal stimulus funds to help bridge the technological divide, boost employment and improve education in the First State.
Delaware was named as one of the recipients of funding from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, administered by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Federal funds will be matched by a $750,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation will also provide $150,000 to help Delaware secure additional federal E-rate funding to sustain broadband connection costs in the future.
The combined grant award will fund a program to create specialized computer centers in four major libraries to improve workforce skills, assist with job searches and provide adult education. Those same services will be delivered electronically to all 32 Delaware libraries. The program will bring mobile service to every library in the state, as well as videoconferencing equipment and workforce development training. The approximately half a million people with Delaware library cards will be able to access the new services.
“This grant will make a huge difference in being able to bring much-needed mobile technology to our libraries, and offer Delawareans new services that will help them get ready for jobs, find jobs and enhance their education,” said Markell. “While our libraries do a terrific job with information, these new services will make our libraries an even more valuable resource for people trying to equip themselves for a changing job market.”
The Delaware Library Job/Learning Labs project will involve all public libraries in the state and will provide broadband education, access, equipment and support to vulnerable populations in all three counties. The Delaware Division of Libraries will partner with government agencies, educational institutions and local businesses to expand these services.
“For our libraries to be the best in the nation, we need to target library services to the changing needs of Delawareans and leverage the best technology available,” said Denn.
The computer centers at the Dover, Georgetown, Seaford and Wilmington libraries will become Job/Learning Labs focused specifically on the needs of the unemployed, with specialized training for resume building, job search and interview skills. Spanish-language training programs will be conducted in Wilmington.
The program will fund instruction to as many as 2,000 residents with approximately 29,000 hours of teacher-led training over a three-year period. The training will focus on digital literacy, test preparation and workforce education.
For the thousands of Delawareans who do not have computers or internet access at home, their public library is an especially important place in a world where employers, schools and government are relying much more heavily on electronic communication. The grant will be used to upgrade public computer centers at all 32 public libraries statewide, to deploy additional new computers, improve internet access speeds and reduce waiting periods for library computers.
Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with the Delaware Division of Libraries and library systems in 13 other states to help public libraries compete for federal broadband stimulus funding. States participating in the Gates Foundation’s Opportunity Online broadband grant program received technical and consulting assistance to develop competitive funding proposals.
Nearly 40 percent of Americans, often those with lower incomes and lower levels of education, still do not have high-speed internet access at home. In many communities in Delaware, the public library is the only provider of free internet access available to residents.
The Delaware Division of Libraries will work with the Delaware Workforce Investment Board in implementing the training and job-seeking aspects of the project.
Other partners include the Delaware Department of Technology and Information, Delaware Technical & Community College, Literacy Volunteers Serving Adults, Christina Adult Education Program, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Delaware Center for Distance Adult Learning, the Delaware Economic Development Office, and Delaware’s Departments of Education and Labor.