Funding cut for free public access computers
Alternative funding is being sought to support free public access to Internet-connected computers at the library now that the service’s major funding source has been discontinued.
Federal funding for the Community Access Program ended on March 31, leaving Didsbury Municipal Library at a loss with how to replace the $2,000 to $6,000 in cash, goods, or services it received annually through the program.
Government officials say CAP has sucessfully achieved its objectives. When started in 1997, CAP was a way to help communities in rural and remote settings obtain affordable access to the Internet
and the skills to use it effectively.
“It was to cross that digital divide. I think they’re thinking they’ve crossed it, but they haven’t,” said library manager Inez Kosinski.
The Didsbury Municipal Library intends to continue supporting what Kosinski calls a valuable service.
“There are people who can’t afford a computer or the Internet connection,” she said. “And for the rural community they don’t have access to high speed. It just doesn’t exist in some areas.”
While 2011-2012 funding will still provide two replacement computers this year, Kosinski said
she is looking to budget support for the computers for 2013.
“If the CAP program is no more, we’ll be returning to the Friends (Friends of the Didsbury Library Society),” she said.
It is this type of
fiscal downloading that Didsbury’s municipal council is protesting, said Mayor Brian Wittal.
Council voted during last Tuesday night’s regular meeting to send a letter to Wild Rose Member of Parliament Blake Richards outlining their concerns with the funding cut.
“I think the intent is to express our displeasure in the cuts and continued offloading to taxpayers,” said Wittal.
Filling the funding void will most likely fall upon the municipality to be paid for with current tax dollars or new tax dollars, he said.
And restricting public access to computers will likely affect the people in the community who most need them and if that happens Wittal says it won’t help anyone.
Kosinski described use of the Didsbury library’s eight public use computers as having levelled off, but still used regularly.
The “invasion of the Smartphone” has diminished the after-school rush on stations somewhat, she said.
The majority of people using the computers now include those conducting job searches, completing homework, or staying connected through social networking, said Kosinski.
And that’s exactly what Evelyn Luoma was doing at one of the computers last week.
As she checked her Facebook page, Luoma described the frequency of her use of the public access computers as “quite often.”
Diane Jensen hadn’t used the computers at the library until her home computer broke down.
She was in the library last week with her daughter to access her pay stub which is available online.
“When one fails there’s always another one somewhere,” she said.
It may not even be that CAP computer users don’t have a home computer, said Kosinski.
“People come in quite regularly to print boarding passes,” she said.
Travellers are also CAP computer users, she said, with many stopping in to check emails or check in on business.