Friday, November 21, 2014

Tribal Libraries Lack Broadband Access

08/21/2014

Forty percent of tribal libraries participating in a national study lack broadband access to the Internet.

And, depending on how you define broadband, that figure could be as high as 89%, according to a study by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries & Museums.

The association undertook the study to help fill gaps in knowledge about how well tribal libraries are doing with digital and electronic equipment and services. Major studies of U.S. libraries have been part of creating the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. But that plan didn’t include specific information on tribal libraries.

The report shows that tribal libraries are providing critical services in their communities but that they lag behind the nation as a whole. And they aren’t doing as well, generally, as other rural public libraries overall.

The report is worth a read by anyone interested in rural technology, communications and education.

We want to focus on just two of the 25 charts and tables included in the 50-page report.

First, the chart at the top of the story shows how tribal and rural libraries stack up against national averages in providing digital services and equipment.

Across the board (with just a couple exceptions), tribal libraries lag national and rural averages in their equipment and services. Tribal libraries are less likely than all public libraries to provide homework resources, audio books, electronic databases, e-books and online instruction services.

One exception to the trend is in digitized special collections such as photographs and letters. Tribal libraries are more likely offer that service to their communities.

Another key chart relates to a federal broadband funding program called E-Rate. E-Rate is part of the Universal Service Fund, and it provides discounts to schools and libraries to help with their technology needs, including broadband access.

The study found that only 15% of the tribal-library respondents participated in the discount program.

Why didn’t they participate? That’s what this chart shows.

Nearly half of the libraries responding to the survey in 2013 said they didn’t participate in E-Rate program because they had never heard of it. Another quarter said they weren’t sure whether they qualified.

That means three quarters of the tribal libraries that don’t participate in E-Rate aren’t using the program because they lack very basic information about its existence and features.

E-Rate is only one of the many funding streams that are available to help tribal libraries offer more digital services. But the program is also a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s efforts to improve broadband for underserved communities. Last month the FCC revamped the E-Rate program to include more funding for broadband and other digital technologies.

The report calls for “more equitable access” to E-rate funding for tribal libraries.