These days, the libraries in Haines, Klukwan and Skagway mean much more to residents and visitors than checking out a book or two. The facilities are hubs for educational functions and information gathering via the internet. Patrons use the free web access to find jobs, file taxes and scholarly and cultural pursuits.
[Our emphasis] But proposed cuts from both the House and Senate Finance committees call for a 100-percent reduction to the program that funds library internet connections.
Last year, the Online With Libraries, or OWL, funding was threatened, too. And like this year’s campaign to reduce the deficit, the program was originally slated to be axed in its entirety. But it survived completely intact.
Patty Brown is the director of the Haines library. She says this year is different.
If the cuts go through, Brown says the library in Haines would lose its federal match dollars also. That means the library would no longer be able to offer wireless internet service or video conferencing – two services the public has come to rely on. In total, OWL costs a little over $760,000 each year to serve 45 libraries across the state. Brown says that’s a small price to pay for a lifeline.
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More Frrom the Anchorage Dispatch News
Rural Alaskans without home Internet often rely on computers in public libraries for essentials, said Katie Baxter, director of the Kodiak Public Library and chair of the advocacy committee of the Alaska Library Association.
The program costs the state about $760,000 and draws down four times that from the federal government. As of Wednesday afternoon, 880 people had signed an online petition in support of OWL.
Twenty-four libraries have reported they will “go dark” without the state and federal support, according to a state survey. There’s tiny Lake Minchumina, population 11, which is counting on $5,600 next year through the state subsidy to support the only public broadband in a large remote area near Denali. Kodiak, with thousands of residents, expects $6,700 from OWL. Sitka in Southeast is counting on $5,000, and Dillingham in the Bristol Bay region, more than $18,000. Each library would get much bigger federal matches.