By Stephen Smoot
When Benjamin Franklin reflected on how his own idea of a public library had improved the nation, he said “these libraries have improved the general Conversation of Americans, made the common Tradesman and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps contributed in some Degree to the Stand so generally made throughout the colonies in Defence of their Privileges.”
One could say almost 300 years later that access to quality high speed internet can have the same dramatic impact that the appearance of libraries created in Franklin’s time.
Today, the Pendleton County Library and the Pendleton County school system have teamed up to help expand broadband access to individuals and areas who qualify under guidelines laid out in the Emergency Connectivity Fund, or ECF. Those who qualify for assistance must first sign up for a Pendleton County Library card.
Laura Brown, executive director of the Pendleton County Economic Development Authority, will be coordinating the expansion effort. She strongly urged anyone eligible to sign up for their library card as soon as possible. “You can become a free member of the library,” she said. “Addresses must be included on the form.” Anyone eight years old and above can receive a library card.
Brown emphasized that the address on the library card must be a physical address and not a post office box.
She also advised those in the area that are interested to call the EDA office at (304) 358-2074 to check and see if they are eligible for the expanded service in the Sugar Grove region. This area was selected due to the area’s proximity to a broadband line terminal point. Like other wired services, it must join to physical infrastructure already in place.
“This means more connectivity to our county,” Brown stated, “The important part is that it’s expansion of broadband, which is sorely needed.” For those who qualify and also sign up for their library card to be eligible, they should start receiving access to service in August of 2023.
Earlier this year, the county library and school system qualified for ECF funds to help expand broadband resources for education and related purposes. The fund nationally has approximately $7.1 billion to help offset education costs and other shortfalls incurred during the COVID 19 pandemic. According to the FCC, schools, libraries, and combinations of the two are eligible for assistance under this fund.
Those signing up for a library card will enjoy more than possible access to broadband and book borrowing. They offer a wide variety of literature for children and adults of different reading tastes, as well as audio books and DVDs. Through the library website with a card, patrons can access the Learning Express Library with innumerable resources for educators and learners of all ages developing skills on their own. Also, through the library website, the West Virginia Information Depot connects readers with a digital archive of millions of magazine and other articles.
These resources that can be accessed from home could make a huge difference to students with library cards doing reports or class projects.
Many also appreciate the various activities planned for patrons young and old, such as the children’s Christmas decoration craft party earlier this month.
Franklin said that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” For many in Sugar Grove, the first investment in a world of online knowledge can come with filling out a form to get their library card.