MONTROSE – Patrons of Montrose Regional Library have a lot more than books at their disposal with the opening of a new computer lab and enhanced technologies like downloadable audio books.
Eleven new laptops in the computer lab sit on long tables and can be used by library patrons at no cost. The computer lab was built with funds from grants for the state library system that created Public Computer Centers in 81 communities in the state, including two Ute tribal libraries, 62 public libraries, five combination school-and-public libraries, and seven library branches in remote rural towns.
The grant totaled more than $2.2 million with in-kind matches of more than $1 million, for a total of $3,345,670. The money came from several sources, including the Colorado Department of Labor, the Colorado State Adult Education/Family Literacy and GED Programs, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which contributed $754,000.
The Montrose library has been using equipment supplied from the grant for months now, but publicized it last Wednesday with a Technology Open House attended by Gene Hainer, assistant commissioner for the Colorado State Library.
According to the state, the purpose of enhancing computer facilities at public libraries is to increase public access to the digital age, especially access for vulnerable populations like the disabled or elderly, people who are unemployed or under-employed, and non-English speaking residents.
The grant, titled the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program, is based on a community’s needs and poverty levels, and will also include “training, technical support, and other resources to support job search, career advancement and high school to college attainment through community anchor institutions such as public libraries” according to a press release from the state.
The grant includes public computer training in basic computer skills, broadband adoption, work force skills such as Microsoft Office, resources for adult education, GED and high school to college programs, according to the press release. Other courses include access to health information, English as a second language, and “other high need information.”
Montrose isn’t the only town in the western San Juans receiving enhanced computer services. Libraries in Paonia, Nucla, Naturita, Silverton, Gunnison, Hotchkiss and Grand Junction were also among the communities chosen for computer expansion. Altogether, the grant paid for 451 desktop computers, 692 laptops, 69 workstations that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other auxiliary equipment such as printers.
It’s not just the computers, but also the knowledge they give access to that’s important, and the Montrose library has many databases for patrons to access. The Job and Career Accelerator, for example, gives help on creating a resume, exploring occupational aptitudes, job search listings from across the country.
Job seekers can also access a comprehensive testing database, Learning Express Library, where they can take refresher courses and take practice tests – with feedback provided – for academic and licensing exams like the ACT, SAT, military and civil service, and citizenship.
Library patrons can also learn a foreign language, for free, through Mango Languages, which offers Western and Eastern languages, as well as English for Spanish speakers.
The library offers access to many more databases, on subjects that range from auto repair to historical research, which are available from home computers by using the patron’s library bar code number. Library members can also now download up to 10 audio books, which they can access for up to three weeks, with renewal options.
More than just a repository for books, the Montrose Library is also in outreach mode. Although Olathe no longer has a library branch, the Montrose Library Bookmobile makes frequent visits, and will also benefit from the grant with new laptops and a printer, McBride said.
“We qualified [for the grant] primarily because of income levels in Olathe, and we are committed to serving Olathe with this equipment as well,” she said.
In addition to the big state grant, McBride secured another grant for Montrose to write up a curriculum for basic computer classes, which went through a successful pilot phase in the spring. The classes offered basic computer skills, introduction to Microsoft Work, introduction to the Internet and how to handle email, and were very successful.
“We have a pretty long waiting list for additional classes,” McBride said.
Meg Nagel, who coordinates volunteers and organizes adult programs for the library, said the basic computer classes will continue, thanks to equipment provided by the state grant.
“We wouldn’t be able to do computer classes without this equipment,” she said. “It’s made it all possible.”