Last week, Rasmuson Foundation staff members and Board member Morgan Christen joined with an excited group of funders, librarians and community partners to celebrate the launch of the Alaska OWL: Online With Libraries project. The project will provide broadband Internet service to Alaska’s 105 public libraries, as well as public videoconferencing network.

The $8.2 million project is jointly funded by a U.S. Department of Commerce BTOP grant of $5.4 million to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and matching funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alaska State Library and Rasmuson Foundation.

Why does Rasmuson Foundation invest in libraries? We believe libraries are not only the bedrock of Alaska’s educational and social systems, but also a symbol of our democratic society. What libraries do is more relevant today than ever before.

Libraries are a pathway to the world outside, and the place for communities to gather and learn. They are a way out of poverty and isolation for new immigrants. And they have incredible reach. Together, libraries reach 536,000 out of 686,000 Alaskans. That’s the potential to change 536,000 lives for the better.

The Alaska OWL: Online With Libraries project of the Alaska State Library will link Alaskans and their communities to each other and the rest of the world through a statewide network of public library Public Computer Centers (PCC). As a result of this project, many users in remote, isolated areas will experience broadband Internet access and videoconferencing for the first time. The network will be a pathway for partners to offer job and public safety training, social services, distance education, and heritage preservation activities.

All libraries in the project will receive new computers, software, and peripherals, including videoconferencing equipment. Grant funds will also be spent to secure a group purchase of broadband service for those libraries currently receiving less than 1.5 MB of bandwidth. Project and network management personnel will be hired along with local IT support staff for selected libraries. The project will increase library operating hours in the smallest libraries.

The Alaska OWL project is aimed at enabling more Alaskans to access the Internet in order to overcome the state’s geographic isolation and population dispersion.  Alaska OWL meshes well with the commitment of public libraries to support life-long learning, cultural preservation, community enrichment, and publicly accessible technology.

To learn more about Alaska OWL, go to the Alaska State Library website. You will find a treasure trove of information including a project overview and requirements from participation in the program.