Computer and Internet Access, Plus Training to Expand in Harrison County Libraries

Knight Foundation Grant Part of Effort to Meet America’s Information Needs

BILOXI (Jan. 5, 2010) – Harrison County residents will have greater, quicker access to the Internet at their local libraries, with the addition of 77 new laptops, 10 new PCs and an upgraded wireless network, thanks to a $160,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The support will also provide computer training – including classes in basic computing, Internet and email use – at seven of the nine library branches. Currently, only one branch offers such classes.

The new hardware is expected to increase the number of annual computer users by 30 percent to 135,000 over the next three years, at which time the library system expects to complete construction on four branches destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

“We are seeing an ever-increasing demand for Internet access and computer skills. Folks apply for work, deal with government services and communicate with their families and the world online.  And for many, a library computer is their only access to this new world,” said Library Director Robert Lipscomb. “This grant will allow us to expand this vitally needed service .”

The grant is part of a $5.5 million Knight Foundation initiative benefiting library users in 20 communities across the United States. The effort reinforces the sweeping recommendations by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, a project of the Aspen Institute.  In a report issued earlier this year, the Commission asserts that democracy in America is threatened by the lack of equal access to quality information. Funding public libraries, as centers of digital and media training, is one key to filling the gaps, the commission says. Its report is available at www.knightcomm.org.

“Internet access is a prerequisite to being an informed and engaged citizen in the digital age – whether you’re looking for a job, or for information on health issues or school scholarships,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation, who announced the grant in Biloxi today. “In communities, libraries are essential hubs for that access, and for the training to use it effectively.”

About the Harrison County Library System

The Harrison County Library System seeks to provide library services to a diverse community with changing cultural, educational, business and recreational needs. Technology and, most specifically, public access to the Internet is an increasingly important tool in our efforts to meet these needs. The library system sees an ever-growing number  using the library’s public computers and Wifi environment to seek employment, access e-government, communicate in the new social networks and online communities and generally participate in the new world created by the Internet. While the Harrison County Library System seeks to provide services to handle increasing demand, it is still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in which it lost four of its nine libraries.  Currently, new libraries are under construction and by 2011, four new facilities will be available to the Harrison county community.

The Harrison County Library System recently completed both a strategic plan and a technology plan to support the system’s goals.  One of the goals supported by the Knight Foundation grant is that residents will have high-speed access to the ever-growing resources and services available through the Internet.  The entire plan as well as other information is available at www.harrison.lib.ms.us.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

Contact: Celia Barrett, Harrison County Libraries, ,228-868-1383 x 31 c.barrett@harrison.lib.ms.us  or  Charline Longino 228-388-1633, c.longino@harrison.lib.ms.us

Marc Fest, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677; fest@knightfoundation.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.