BRATTLEBORO -- The increasing access to broadband for multiple Vermont libraries could be the best upgrade since the Dewey Decimal System.
The announcement of a joint marketing agreement between the Bellows Falls-based Sovernet Communications and Education Networks of America last week signifies an ongoing commitment to provide broadband connectivity and high-speed Internet services to community anchor centers, such as schools, municipal centers and, of course, libraries.
Increasing broadband capacity through Sovernet's FiberConnect project, a $48-million project to construct a high-speed fiber optic cable line through 773 miles in seven Vermont counties, provides even the smallest libraries 21st century communication services that will aid the entire community in the long-run.
State Librarian Martha Reid with the Vermont Department of Libraries said deploying FiberConnect to rural locations improves access for local users and creates core fiber build-outs in order to reach those communities. That core puts into place a set of fiber infrastructure which, in the future, could serve in residential applications.
"This project will make it possible for 53 of our public libraries to have fiber connectivity to meet the growing demand for high-speed Internet services for citizens of all ages," Reid said. "Fiber broadband in libraries will provide the necessary bandwidth to support a wide range of 21st century library services
It's not just about the printed page anymore.
Public libraries, always utilized as sources of reference information, are evolving in Vermont and around the country as institutions for access to different mediums like high-speed Internet and other web-based services.
Jerry Carbone, executive director of Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, said the proposed broadband expansion will have a transformative effect within his trade.
"Public libraries have been recognized as being anchor institutions for this grant, so that means they are seen as the front-line point for Internet access for Vermont citizens. And I know that's the case in our library here. We have 20 public access computers that are going all the time with people filing job applications or accessing online courses and just doing e-mail," Carbone said.
"With the fiber, the exploding world of Internet content will be more available and accessible to them simply because there are things that you cannot do with just a traditional DSL connection or Comcast connection. All the video that is available or the teleconferencing that can be achieved with fiber," he added. "I think there's so many ways that it's going to be used."
Emily Zervas, the Reference and Historical Collections Librarian at Rockingham Free Public Library, said the project will allow them to offer faster Internet access to patrons utilizing the public computers.
"It also means hopefully being able to expand our Internet-based services to include teleconferencing," she said.
Libraries have seen higher visit turnouts during the economic recession, and many expect another spike with the expanded online services. Rockingham reported a 15-percent increase in cardholders and a respectable 25-percent jump in visits.
"It will bring people into the library specifically for the use of this technology, and it will be incumbent on libraries in how to promote it, make it understandable for people," Carbone said. "I can just see so much that can be done. Libraries are important community centers for lifelong learning and to go beyond your community in terms of lectures and education and the access to the global connections that you have with this is truly mind-boggling."
The Sovernet and ENA agreement allows the organizations to offer improved quality service to community anchors around Vermont. ENA also has access to Sovernet's local fiber assets to work on FiberConnect in schools through a contract with the state Department of Education.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation via the Vermont Department of Libraries aided in funding the project along with a $33.4-million federal Broadband Technology Opportunities grant. Sovernet also added more than $12 million for FiberConnect.
Chris Garofolo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.