Baudette Library a True Community Connector
by Alie McInerney Posted in Broadband, Rural Capacity Building
After her first day on the job, Kelli Pelland knew some changes had to be made. From the dinosaur-era computers to the drag-your-feet-in-the-mud speed of the Internet connection, she realized that the Baudette Public Library didn’t have the makings of a community connecting hub…yet.
“We were kind of outdated,” she says. “We needed to update our technology to be able to offer the type of resources and services the community needs.”
When Baudette area community leaders learned about the opportunity to become a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), Kelli jumped at the chance, ready to work with others to advance Internet use in Lake of the Woods County.
As part of the BBC program, an intensive two-year partnership between some rural Minnesota communities and Blandin Foundation, leaders in the Lake of the Woods area leveraged planning, technical and financial support as they designed initiatives to position their communities and every resident for greater success.
“Before we actually applied for the grants, a number of community partners met to plan,” Kelli says. “I began to think through the library’s role as a gathering place for our community, as well as a go-to resource for up-to-date technology. Together we identified our top priorities, including the items and training we needed to move our community forward.”
Digital inclusion surfaced as a key priority–both in terms of geography and community makeup. In many places throughout the county, like the City of Williams, people did not have any access to public WiFi. More widespread yet was the lack of technological familiarity of many older community members.
To address these county-wide issues, leaders in Lake of the Woods pulled together a proposal that combined the necessary hardware with training and put them both in places that were, or had the potential to be, a community crossroads.
The Baudette Library was one such place. During the two-year BBC program, the library replaced five workstations and installed three laptops, six iPads, a wireless printer, a projector, and a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
According to Kelli, though, the story just began with the hardware. What has really changed is how the communities are utilizing the technology to learn, share, create, and connect.
For example, the local Headstart is now checking out iPads on a routine basis and integrating them into their curriculum. Kids now are learning their alphabet and numbers through quality programs only available via iPad.
The Happy Homemaker Extension Club is using the iPads as a design tool, exploring their gardening work in new ways.
Not only is the new technology helping groups outside of the library, it is bringing people in.
“Our parking lot is typically full before we open until long after we close,” says Kelli. “Now that we have a strong public Wi-Fi network, people congregate outside. We’ve definitely become a technology hub.”
People of all ages are flocking to the library to use the devices, the strong Internet connection, and to have access to the knowledgeable staff, says Kelli. “As part of the Blandin grant, we’ve hosted a number of computer and social marketing trainings. I’ve attended each one and now know more about how to set up Skype accounts, help the elderly create email accounts, assist students as they do research for a school project, etc. More people are seeking me and my staff out as a key information resource.”
The word is spreading, says Kelli. “People are coming in to access the information they need and connect with others in the community while they do it.”
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