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Connect @ Your Library Helps You Connect with Friends and Family

As a collaborator in the Connect @ Your Library project, AARP Montana is looking forward to enhancing opportunities for members and patrons to connect to each other and to family and friends as the project moves forward.

Late last fall, the Montana State Library announced the launch of a $2.7 million grant to increase availability of internet throughout state. Initially, the State Library received a $1,829,473 grant to fund its "Enhancing Computer Centers at Montana Public Libraries" project, which is designed to expand broadband capacity and training in many of Montana's public libraries. An additional $867,231 in matching funds was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A study last year ranked Montana 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in broadband Internet penetration, with just 34% of connections having broadband speeds above two megabits per second. This problem is made more challenging by the state’s low population density and expansive geography. In many cases, public libraries are the only feasible source of broadband Internet access in remote communities.

The Montana State Library project is providing more access at faster speeds to 42 local libraries in 29 counties across the state within reach of 86 percent of Montana’s population. Participating libraries were chosen based on demonstrated library need and geographic challenges, as well as their ability and willingness to sustain project investments.

“AARP Montana joined the Connect @ Your Library project based on the concept that the public library is a place to meet new people, learn new things and discover new ideas,” said Bob Bartholomew, AARP Montana State Director. “The project fits perfectly with our mission of helping people 50 and older improve the quality of their lives.”

In a recent AARP Bulletin story about the future of public libraries, Allan Kleiman noted that the over-65 population "will double in size by 2025, and libraries are realizing that this is a potentially new and exciting market." Allan Kleiman is one of the leading consultants on retrofitting the nation's public libraries as beacons for older adults.

Kleiman, who has consulted with libraries across America on how to attract older people, sees libraries as places for assembling an active, more inquiring generation that wants books, but also much more information and connectivity. He believes the proven success of interactive sections for teens and children will translate to the same for older adults.

With steady outreach, able volunteers and increased grants, Kleiman believes, libraries could outpace senior centers as the place people gather. It could be a throwback to the "People's University," which sprang up on and off college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s.

"This award helps to support life-long learning for Montanans by helping folks get the right information in their hands to help them move forward with their lives,” said Darlene Staffeldt, Montana State Librarian. “Whether the information helps them start a business, understand a medical diagnosis or helps a child develop a love of reading, lifelong learning is critical to the success of all Montanans, and indeed to our state as a whole."

The Connect @ Your Library project is expected to be fully implemented by June 30, 2013.

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