Alaska OWL Project Celebrates Launch

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska OWL, Online With Libraries, project celebrated it’s statewide launch this month. The ambitious undertaking is a three-year, $8.2 million effort to connect all 105 libraries in Alaska to high speed video conferencing. From Barrow to Dutch Harbor to Ketchikan and throughout the interior, every library will receive assistance.

Glen Cook is the deputy director for the state Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums. Cook says many libraries in Alaska serve very small populations but the services are critical. He says the money and the tech support will bring all libraries up to a minimum of 1.5 meg broadband.

Cook says all libraries will receive hardware upgrades.

Cook says many libraries in Alaska operate on an all volunteer or limited hour schedule and those that are open for less than 20 hours per week will be eligible for money that will pay for an additional five hours per week. He says the Alaska Vocational Technical Center or AVTECH will provide training and on call technical support to library staff.

Laura Breeden is with NTIA, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Breeden is the program director for the public computing and sustainable broadband adoption program at NTIA. She says library usage is rising because of internet access for people who need help from a librarian or don’t have online capabilities at home. She says they invested in Alaska communities because of the challenges of access in rural Alaska.

Breeden says the Alaska project is one of 230 programs nationwide they supported as part of a $4.7 billion recovery act grant. She says extending connectivity helps with the overall expense in rural parts of the state.

Funding is through the state division of libraries, the Universal Services fund, and the Rasmuson Foundation. Jeff Clarke is with the Rasmuson Foundation. He says the family foundation has always been big supporters of libraries in Alaska and this project will help drive what he expects will be significant changes in the marketplace over the next three years.

Download Audio (MP3)