The Western NEws: Library gets tech boost from ARPA grant

by Will Langhorne

Lincoln County Library is planning to expand their digital offerings thanks to a $32,500 federal grant.

The funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant program will underwrite the hiring of a technology specialist who would organize workshops for patrons and train library staff, according to Alyssa Ramirez, county library director.

“There’s a need in Lincoln County especially with the pandemic when everything went online or virtual,” said Ramirez last month. “We knew people were left behind and we thought it would be a great opportunity to have someone solely focused on digital.”

After joining the library, the technology specialist will organize a community needs assessment to determine how best to address the county’s digital shortcomings. To poll the offline community, Ramirez said the specialist might talk with residents at grocery stores and local events.

Ramirez suspected the assessment might highlight points of improvement, including helping residents manage telemedicine meetings or operate smart TVs.

If all goes according to plan, the library will hire a specialist early in January and complete the community assessment in time to host workshops next summer or fall. Ramirez envisioned the digital literacy workshops as a series the specialist could hold around the county.

Along with paying the salary of the technology specialist and funding the workshops, dollars from the institute could help the library system purchase equipment, such as laptops, needed for the outreach.

Lincoln County Libraries was among 572 contestants nationwide to apply for funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Of the original contenders, 390 were awarded grants. Only 101 winners were libraries, according to Ramirez.

The funds from the institute came from the American Rescue Plan Act, a sprawling $1.9 trillion relief package passed by Congress earlier this year to boost the country’s economy. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who helped pass the bill, applauded the funds the county library system received.

“Ensuring reliable access to digital resources is essential to growing Lincoln County’s economy in the 21st Century,” said Tester, a Democrat, in an Oct. 26 press release. “Montana’s libraries are hubs in our frontier areas, and this funding will help them identify where Montanans are falling through the digital gaps and find solutions to make sure folks in Lincoln County can stay connected.”