Libraries receive 100 computers

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- About 80 community libraries across the state, mostly in the Bush, will get new computers as the result of a gift from the foundation set up by Microsoft Corp. leader Bill Gates.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is sending about 100 top-of-the-line Gateway computers to be distributed to libraries across the state, including Delta Junction, Fairbanks and a couple of libraries in Anchorage, but mainly to libraries in the Bush.

About 80 community libraries -- Aniak, Kotzebue, Tanana, Eagle and Nome among them -- will receive one or more computers for public use.

The donation is a national effort by the billionaire's charity to increase computer literacy in smaller communities. Alaska's grant is worth about $780,000. About $250 million has been spent on the national effort, which began in 1998.

''Our objective is to make sure that those people with the least access to technology get access,'' foundation spokeswoman Marie Groark said from Seattle.

Nina Malyshev, library development consultant for the Alaska State Library, said the Bush is where the new computers will make the biggest difference. The Gates Foundation is providing training for librarians as well as computers, she said.

''We should really be able to bring up the level of public access computing, especially in these small libraries,'' Malyshev said.

Tanana may be a case in point.

The community's library serves the school and the public. It has five public use iMacs.

''They don't have as much power as some of the other machines out there,'' librarian Barbara Martin said. ''Everybody complains, 'Oh, it's not fast enough.'''

Another library receiving computers is the one in Naknek, a Bristol Bay fishing village of 1,254 people.

Librarian Sheila Ring says the Martin Monsen Regional Library has three public-use Internet terminals that range in age from 2 to 5 years.

In the summer when the fishing industry is abuzz, the wait to get online can be as long as two hours.

Internet in the home there costs $40 a month, so many local residents rely on the library's terminals, Ring said.

In addition to a boost in public-use terminals at Naknek's main library, a branch across the river in South Naknek is getting its own Gateway, which will replace the aging public-use Internet computer there.

There's no bridge connecting the two communities.

''They have no stores,'' Ring said. ''Just having Internet access over there, they can at least get online and order what they need.''

Groark, of the Gates Foundation, said Alaska is among the last states to get new computers. In all, about 40,000 computers have been distributed to 10,000 libraries across the country.

The total endowment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is $24 billion. Computer distribution to libraries is one of the first big projects established by the charity. Other projects involve improving global health and high school achievement.

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