Yukon library awarded grant to expand digital access

Federal CARES Act funds to help 'bridge digital divide'

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Yukon Librarian Sara Schieman

The Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) has awarded a $5,000 Digital Inclusion grant to the Mabel C. Fry Public Library to help the library expand access to digital information and resources.

Yukon’s library is one of 50 institutions to receive the grant from ODL courtesy of the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) whose purpose is to advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grant-making, research, and policy development.

A total of $290,000 was distributed to public libraries, tribal libraries and cultural centers, museums, and literacy programs to improve digital access during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Librarian Sara Schieman said the funding was used to purchase outdoor access points to provide expanded wireless Internet connection into the library parking lot and west field.

These access points allow library patrons to have access to a high-speed internet connection any time the library is closed for any reason, not just during the pandemic.

“In March, during our time of complete closure, I spoke to a college student who was sitting on the bench outside the library using the library Wi-Fi to take a college exam,” Schieman said. “She had a notebook, textbook, laptop and calculator and was juggling and struggling to take her exam.

“She couldn’t even stay in her car because the Internet connection didn’t extend that far! This grant will be invaluable to people who cannot afford internet access in their home.”

The library is excited to be able to offer an extended wireless Internet service to the residents of Yukon and Canadian County.

With virtual learning on the horizon for the foreseeable future, the access points will allow students, parents, and teachers an opportunity for free wireless access from the comfort of their own vehicle no matter the time or day.

BRIDGE DIVIDE

On days when the weather permits, Internet seekers are now able to sit out in the field directly west of the library to access Wi-Fi.

The most recent Census data shows 76% of Oklahoma households are connected to broadband Internet.

“That leaves a lot of people having to depend on free public access in order to locate and use the digital information and services they need,” ODL Director Melody Kellogg said.

“We already have a digital divide in Oklahoma and across the country. The pandemic has just made the divide harsher since libraries and other places that offer this free access may be closed or only offering limited services at this time.”

Congress provided for CARES Act funds to help libraries, museums and tribal nations bridge this divide.

Grant applicants asked for a variety of products to meet the particular needs of their communities. Some requested equipment to expand the reach of their WiFi access, while others requested hotspots for checkout, or laptops and tablets for checkout or to expand access inside their building.

In addition, the CARES Act provided grants to help libraries and cultural institutions procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff and customers.

ODL distributed $60,000 in PPE grants in June and July to 64 institutions. The Mabel C. Fry Public Library also received a $1,000 PPE grant which has helped purchase masks, eye protection, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

For more information about the Yukon library, call (405) 354-8232.