Two Alaska Library Programs Benefit Entire State

By Toni Massari McPherson

Thanks to the Alaska State Library, libraries across the state have access to two excellent programs. The FY2014 funding for both is going through the budget process right now and I’m crossing my fingers that they make it through unscathed.

Since 2008, Live Homework Help has been a lifesaver for thousands of Alaska students struggling with their homework. This online service offers live one-on-one assistance for K-12 and intro-level college students. The tutors are standing by, ready to help, from 1pm to midnight, seven days a week. And it’s free through local libraries.

As a parent who had not a prayer of helping my son with his advanced calculus and AP chemistry classes, Homework Help had me singing its praises to anyone who would listen.But it isn’t just the parents that are breathing a sigh of relief for this educational support. Kids love it too. Here’s a few of their comments:

“I love it!!! I was really behind in math and now I get help so I can catch up. My grade went from an F to an A!” – 7th grader

“This definitely helped me and a bunch of friends tonight with a section that we didn’t understand. I have never used this site before today, but it probably just saved my grade, along with three other people’s grades for our test tomorrow.”
– 11th grader

“I think this is a great program and should not be put down ‘til I’m at least done with all my school.” – 8th grader

The program’s statistics back up these enthusiastic endorsements. In the year it was introduced, 5,073 students used the service for a total of 1,882.3 hours. In 2011, 12,536 students tallied 4,136 hours and last year, the numbers jumped to 18,065 and 5,359.2 hours.

To put it another way, Live Homework Help is a mental health program. Think of all the students and parents who avoid the stress and drama and heartache involved in the getting homework done by logging on to the online chat line. The FY2014 budget is $138,000.

The second program is the Alaska OWL (Online With Libraries) project, an ambitious and exciting grant-funded initiative begun in 2011. The mission is to improve the computing capabilities of public libraries throughout the state.


The constructional/installation/setup phase of the project is almost done. The Department of Commerce and the Gates Foundation put up the bulk of the initial $8.234M, with the Rasmuson Foundation contributing $250,000 and the State Library another $250,000, as well as, in-kind services beyond calculation.

First, the comprehensive OWL plan tackled the daunting challenge of building a statewide broadband network connecting to 97 libraries. Then it supplied everything needed to make the program functional and on-going: computers, video teleconferencing equipment and support services, IT techs for smaller libraries and training to all the library staffs. Communities where few people have computers, never mind Internet, now have an exceptional product that is available free to library patrons.

The town of Craig’s experience is discussed in this video:

One of the most exciting aspects of the OWL program is the video teleconferencing capability. Remote locations are using this resource to host regular classes for local students. Live Homework Help is now available to some rural villages for the first time. Some libraries have booked tours of exhibits in museums in other states. Government officials and programs can hold hearings or trainings without the costs of travel. Job seekers can video teleconference their interviews with employers and students can do college interviews from their local library.

Anchorage Public Library with its five locations is one of the last library systems to get OWL resources installed. APL is planning a whole array of programs to share with other libraries in the state and that will serve our local population. The Teen Underground writing group, for example, is planning to stage joint meetings with a teen writing group in Bethel. As soon as this resource becomes available, local residents, groups, agencies and organizations will be able to book time on the teleconferencing equipment.

OWL and Live Homework Help are exceptional tools for bridging the rural/urban divide. OWL, especially, offers connections among Alaskan communities that have never before been possible. Grants paid to get it up and running. It is the legislature’s turn to make sure this amazing access is not cut short. The funding request to continue OWL is $761,800.

Toni M McPherson is APL’s Community Relations Coordinator.