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About the project

The IMLS Sparks Grant, Nebraska Schools and Libraries-Breaking the Ice and Igniting Internet Relationships, as the name implies, is intending to kindle partnerships between schools and libraries, and through Internet sharing, to help narrow the Homework Gap for public K-12 students.

The Nebraska Library Commission, in partnership with The Office of the Chief Information Office, have been awarded a Sparks Grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) to address these issues with an innovative approach. This approach will address two national needs: the need for better internet access in libraries with a particular emphasis on providing better access for students to complete homework and the need for new models for E-rate filing. The project began June 1, 2018 and will conclude on May 31, 2019.

In 2015, the FCC implemented the E-rate Modernization Order, which among other things raised the cap on the School and Library program from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion. This was an effort to fund Category 2 (internal connections) requests over the 5-year period from 2015-2020. Now almost four years into the funding window, requests are falling far short of the funds available. In 2016-17, the available E-rate funding exceeded funding requests by $700 million, and eligible entities are significantly behind the projections of full use of their Category 2 funds. In Nebraska, for instance, almost 2/3 of public libraries do not apply for any E-rate funding at all, and 96% have not applied for any Category 2 funding.

It is believed that many public library directors' reluctance to apply for E-rate stems from a combination of:

  • lack of technical wherewithal and familiarity with the new EPC online portal system;
  • lack of time to pursue a complex governmental application;
  • philosophical opposition to censorship and filtering, and
  • lack of knowledge about the minimal technical requirements needed to achieve CIPA compliance.

All public schools in Nebraska are connected to a statewide fiber network, Network Nebraska, which provides substantial internet speeds to public school buildings. Their scalable broadband could be shared with the local library, improving library internet access for their students and teachers. School curricula continue to place more of an emphasis on cloud-based resources, multi-media projects and school-issued computers to students. Rural students are part of the "homework-gap" as they face barriers to completing their homework assignments and school projects without a reliable internet source at home.

The public library is often the only free Wi-Fi available in the community. However, many small and rural libraries do not have adequate internet speeds to service both the student population and patrons in the community.

Creating a partnership between the local library and school district using a mini-consortium E-rate filing will allow the local library and school district to share the school district's high speed internet so students may complete their school homework. This innovative model will benefit the E-rate community by demonstrating the feasibility of forming a mini-consortium. Having an alternative network in the public library for students allows other library patrons to maximize their use of the internet. Students will be able to use their school-issued devices to access the school's internet (from the library), also freeing up computers at the library to be used by non-public school patrons. The process, organizational support and knowledge are already in place to aid rural school districts and public libraries to partner in this model.

Project Focus

This project aims to revolutionize the way that library directors from small and rural libraries approach and apply for E-rate, and to create a local (school district), regional (Nebraska Regional Library Systems) and statewide (Nebraska Library Commission, Nebraska Office of the CIO) support network. This will help maximize their E-rate funding and improve the public library's internet speeds and technical environment to benefit the community at large, and particularly disenfranchised library patrons.

Grant Abstract

Additional Information

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum
and Library Services [IMLS grant: LG-99-18-0018-18].

For more information, contact Holly Woldt.