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Greene: Community Connectivity

06/11/12 5:55PM By Stephanie Greene
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(Host) The Vermont FiberConnect project is bringing fiber optic broadband to 42 public libraries across Vermont. Commentator and freelance writer, Stephanie Greene, considers what might be ahead for these libraries and their communities.
(Greene) In their March 2012 report to the Department of Libraries, library consultants Himmel & Wilson noted that Vermont's rural libraries are in many ways 20 years behind the rest of the nation and require "radical change" - change which must include high speed broadband.

If Vermont were nothing more than a vacation state - some sort of quaint Andy-of-Mayberry throw-back - that wouldn't be a problem. You'd bring your kids to story hour, maybe you'd check out a hammock-friendly book, and that would be that. But consider this: more and more, everyday transactions are conducted online. We apply for jobs online, and social security, and unemployment. Even medical records and applications for food stamps are going online.

One cannot conduct the business of living in the 21st century for long without digital literacy. With VT Towns struggling to attract and keep business in their communities, workforce development becomes key, and broadband access will be central to much of that development as well. Understanding what this actually means and anticipating how things will change is part of the challenge.
The Dover Free Library is one of 42 libraries statewide to become an anchor institution for the broadband being laid across the state, exponentially multiplying its connectivity to the outside world. They are among those currently considering various ways to educate the public about the online/digital resources that will soon be available through many local libraries.

Martha Reid, VT State Librarian, concedes things are rapidly changing. In the 21st century library, people can find many digital resources for small business; and have connections to hundreds of free online courses via the Vermont Online Library. They can even get online help in making a business plan.

The local library becomes something like a virtual community college. As a lifelong learning e-center, the public library also plays an important part in addressing the growing gap between haves and have-nots. The population without ready access to technology can find free help and training at the library - as they can nowhere else.

According to the 2010 census, Vermont is second in the nation for median age - after Maine. Every day it becomes more important that seniors be educated in the use of e-government services and social networking so as not to be marginalized.

Librarianship is changing too. Research has shown that people prefer one on one tutoring when learning digital skills. A librarian trained in digital literacy can help patrons analyze and evaluate the astonishing hodge-podge of online information - separating fact from fiction - and fraud.

Actually, this localizing trend works well with the David vs Goliath mindset embraced by Vermonters. Internet expert and Dean campaign web-master, Nicco Mele makes the point that the Internet is good for the little guy; it levels the playing field. Just think: in the ‘70's, a computer cost around $5 million. Today's iphone has a billion times the power of that computer, and costs around $200.

There's no doubt that we face a digital challenge, but given the way Vermonters met the challenges posed by Tropical Storm Irene, I'd say - emphatically - that we can do it.

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