As trusted community-based institutions, libraries are “uniquely positioned” to support digital equity and literacy programs that have become a key U.S. policy initiative, according to a new report from the American Library Association (ALA).

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) included $2.75 billion for digital equity and literacy programs aimed at enabling citizens to gain the skills to use broadband effectively. This includes $1.5 billion for a program to be administered by the states under NTIA supervision and $1.25 billion for a program to be administered directly by NTIA. 

The ALA recommends that state library agencies be included in statewide digital equity planning groups. Libraries also can help promote digital equity initiatives, the report notes.

Libraries and Digital Equity

The 117,000 U.S. libraries already are heavily involved in digital equity and literacy.

Along with schools, they are playing a critical role in supporting the Emergency Connectivity Program (ECP) by loaning broadband devices and establishing broadband connectivity for students and library patrons.

Libraries also have helped promote the ECP and other broadband affordability programs.

The ALA report cites numerous other examples of digital equity and literacy initiatives that have been undertaken by various libraries. Some of the most notable:

  • Los Angeles County Library offers residents the ability to earn an accredited high school diploma for free online in 18 months or less.
  • Queens Public Library in New York provides an English course for speakers of other languages that includes how to create resumes, interview, prepare presentations and reports and more.
  • A high school in Norman, Oklahoma created a lab where students can use 3D printers and scanners to create physical objects, video equipment to create short films, audio mixing to create podcasts and albums and more.
  • A program at San Antonio College library taught students how to gauge the accuracy and credibility of information available on the internet.
  • A library in rural Pottsboro, Texas established private telehealth rooms that patrons with insufficient connectivity at home can use to meet with medical practitioners

The ALA report also offers advice for legislators and federal administrators. Recommendations include making sustainable funding available for digital equity and reducing administrative and record-keeping barriers that limit small libraries’ participation in digital equity and literacy programs.

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