Author Archives: Holly Woldt

The Homework Gap

The homework gap is a stubborn disparity in at-home broadband that hinders millions of students’ access to the array of online learning, collaboration, and research tools enjoyed by their better-connected peers.

The State of Nebraska recognized this disparity and in July 2018 the Governor and the Legislature created the Rural Broadband Task Force (RBTF) to research the problem and to formulate recommendations in a report initially due on November 1, 2019, and every two years thereafter. Nebraska public libraries were fortunate to be recognized by the RBTF as playing a vital role in providing free public Wi-Fi in rural communities. In particular, libraries serve K-20 students who are part of the “Homework Gap”, those who need access to the internet to complete assignments and check on their grades, but who do not have internet access away from school or campus.

Five of the six RBTF Homework Gap recommendations specifically mention public libraries and increased support to provide faster internet.

To learn more about the RBTF and their task (LB 994) to review “issues relating to availability, adoption, and affordability of broadband services in rural areas of Nebraska”, check out the main page on their website.

Please take a moment to view our Homework Gap video below. The video has sound, so make sure to turn yours on.

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Governor Ricketts Joins the Bayard Community in Celebration of a New School – Library Partnership

On November 16th, 2018 about 120 students and residents of from Bayard attended an Open House at the Bayard Public Library. The Open House promoted the library’s new Homework Hotspot. The Bayard Public Schools and Library have established a technology focused partnership to provide school district students and staff access to the school’s internet at the library. The new Homework Hotspot will feature internet speeds up to 200 Mbps, which is a dramatic increase from the libraries current internet speed of 15 Mbps.

Gov. Pete Ricketts answers questions from Bayard Public School students.

Gov. Pete Ricketts attended the event and addressed the critical need to provide high-speed internet for all residents in rural communities. About 15% (45,000) of Nebraska’s public K-12 students have no internet at home, or internet so slow or unreliable that they are not able to carry on digital learning activities. Many of these students go home with a school district-owned device, such as Chromebooks, which require a constant internet connection. The new Homework Hotspot at the Bayard Public Library will help address this “Homework Gap”.

Now, Bayard school district students can bring their school issued devices or use one of the two desktop computers that are connected to the fixed-wireless Wi-Fi connection between the school and the library to work on homework and school projects.

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Library people: get the upper hand on your tech! The free Toward Gigabit Libraries toolkit is out and ready to help you!

The free Toward Gigabit Libraries toolkit is an open-source technology learning, diagnostic, and advocacy tool designed for public and tribal libraries in the US. The toolkit will guide you through a series of questions about your technology environment — and provide you with all the information you need to answer the questions.

The toolkit is an excellent way to diagnose and fix library technology problems. Some libraries have found it especially useful in preparing for E-rate requests, budget cycles, and even in helping open up lines of communication between library staff and tech workers.

Best of all, you do not need to be a “techie” to use the toolkit. Fifty-eight rural and tribal libraries piloted the toolkit in the US to ensure that it is as simple as possible to use. In the spring of 2017 five Nebraska Community Libraries, Atkinson, Gering, Valley, Walthill, and Wymore, were the very first libraries to pilot the toolkit.

The Toward Gigabit Libraries toolkit is free and open source, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. As well as being a stand-alone resource, you are free to use anything from the toolkit and mix it into other documents.

This resource is designed to empower practitioners to become more savvy and effective consumers, advocates, and providers of high-quality Internet access and digital services to their communities. Funded by an Institute of Museum and Libary Services Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant, the toolkit is designed to scale nationally to all libraries, regardless of size or geographic location.

The Library Commission plans to offer an NCompass Live Session early next year to highlight features of the toolkit.

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150 Attend Sparks Grant Open House in Verdigre

On Tuesday, October 16th, over 150 residents attended the Sparks Grant Open House at the Verdigre Public Library.

“Which one is the homework computer?” asked Carter Nelson, a 6th grader at Verdigre Public School, the day after attending the open house. Those homework computers that Carter was referring to are part of an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), National Leadership Grant (NLG) awarded to the Nebraska Library Commission in partnership with the Nebraska Office of the Chief Information Officer in April of 2018.

The IMLS Sparks Grant, Nebraska Schools and Libraries–Breaking the Ice and Igniting Internet Relationships, as the name implies, is intending to kindle partnerships between schools and libraries, and through Internet sharing, to help narrow the Homework Gap for public K-12 students. The Verdigre Public Library has a new Homework Hotspot located in the library, with the internet for the hotspot provided by Verdigre Public Schools. The school offers internet speeds that are 7 times faster than internet speeds offered at the public library. Students and staff members from Verdigre Public Schools can access the school’s internet connection to complete homework by using either one of the two new desktop computers purchased by the grant or their own school issued devices. The library offers a location for students who may not have internet at home, have poor connectivity or very slow internet at home to complete their schoolwork.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts attended the Open House. The Governor summarized the Sparks Grant and answered questions from the open house attendees for an hour.  The 100 plus students attending the event asked some tough and light-hearted questions ,”How does a state know how much money it will spend next year before knowing its income?”, “What are food stamps?”,  and “Did I hear you’re a Cardinals fan?”

Verdigre is one of five Nebraska communities that are participating in the grant project. The other communities include Bancroft, Genoa, Imperial, and Wymore. The Sparks Grant is for one year, at the end of that year, each community will evaluate the project and decide if they want to continue the project with local funding.

This shared internet is made possible in part by IMLS grant: LG-99-18-0018 and the following partners.

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New resources available to help communities address broadband development

Recently, news headlines have been highlighting the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new definition of broadband and the importance to community vitality of adopting high bandwidth. The FCC sharply revised its benchmark definition of broadband Internet service. The new definition increases download speeds to more than six times faster than the previous standard. The new definition of broadband raises the minimum download speeds needed from 4Mbps to 25Mbps, and the minimum upload speed from 1Mbps to 3Mbps.

Most Nebraska Public Libraries would be ecstatic to have access to 25/3 bandwidth speeds. The reality is these speeds are not commonly available in rural areas in Nebraska. There is good news related to rural bandwidth speeds over the past few years. Broadband upgrade was a focus of the Library Builds Nebraska Communities through the Nebraska Library Commission. At the beginning of the grant, August of 2010, the average broadband speed of the 147 participating libraries was 3.88 Mbps and only four libraries had fiber service. By the end of the project, September 2013, the average speed was 19.76 Mbps (an increase of nearly 400 percent) and 38 libraries had fiber services. Speeds have increased gradually for many public libraries, but many of today’s applications (e.g., social networking, streaming video for educational curriculums) demand greater bandwidth and higher connection speeds.

Nebraska Public Libraries have an opportunity to serve as anchor institutions and fill a leadership role in digital inclusion in our state. The question is how to address the challenge of increasing bandwidth speeds offered in all Nebraska Communities. One new resource available to assist Nebraska communities to address this challenge is a set of resources to help communities address broadband-related development. Leveraging Broadband in Your Community: A Workbook to Help Communities Stimulate Broadband Development provides an overview of broadband development and lays out a process for developing a community broadband plan. The interactive workbook developed by partners in the Nebraska Broadband Initiative includes video clips of Nebraskans talking about the importance of broadband in their businesses and communities. Oakland Public Library Director Roas Scmidt is featured sharing the story of broadband access in the library helps meet community needs.

The workbook (http://broadband.nebraska.gov/workbook/html5/index.html ) and additional resources can be found at the initiative’s newly designed website at broadband.nebraska.gov. Take some time to review the workbook and share it with other leaders in your community. Nebraska Broadband Initiative partners will be available to meet with communities and answer questions. If you are interested in learning more about the workbook or in working with members of the Nebraska Broadband Initiative, please contact Anne Byers (anne.byers@nebraska.gov or 402 471-3805, Charlotte Narjes (cnarjes1@unl.edu or 402 472-1724) or Connie Hancock (chancock1@unl.edu or 308-254-4455).

The Nebraska Broadband Initiative promotes the adoption and utilization of broadband in Nebraska. Project partners include the Nebraska Public Service Commission, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Information Technology Commission, Nebraska Department of Economic Development, and AIM.

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