THE COMMISSION RECOMMENDS:
Fund and support public libraries and other community institutions as centers of digital and media training, especially for adults.
America’s libraries need sufficient funding to serve as centers for information, training, and civic dialogue. Public libraries are located in nearly all communities in the United States. Most of them are wired for Internet service. Nearly all offer public Internet, and almost three quarters are the only providers of free public computer and Internet access in their communities.
These libraries need additional resources to serve the public’s digital needs. Inner city libraries frequently have extensive waiting times for computer use. Libraries need to support the software programs necessary to enable neighborhood youth to work on their homework assignments.
They also need the resources and support to work effectively towards improving digital literacy. For example, the Commission proposes that funds should be available to public libraries for mobile teaching labs to provide digital literacy instruction to members of the public. Eligibility to receive a mobile teaching unit could be based on E-rate criteria—that is, the criteria already used to qualify schools and libraries for discounted telecommunication services under the FCC-directed Universal Service program. Approximately 10,000 public libraries applied for E-rate discounts in 2008, and E-rate funds might also be made available for a mobile teaching initiative. This approach would ensure that the communities that most need the mobile teaching units would have priority consideration.54
The Commission also endorses digital literacy funding for community institutions, such as community centers and community-based development organizations. These organizations provide crucial services in the area of digital and media training, and can be useful sites to engage even moderately Internet-capable adults in sharing their knowledge with those less skilled. Community organizations that already serve as trusted information providers to underserved populations are well situated to help integrate their clients more effectively into the community’s information networks.
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