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Library bridges digital divide, courtesy of Bill Gates

By By Suzanne Digmon
Alabama public libraries have nearly bridged the digital divide, thanks to being the first state to receive computer equipment and services from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation five years ago. In its December 2003 issue, American Libraries magazine revisited three Alabama public libraries where the Gates Foundation (formerly the Gates Library Foundation) has made an impact on the population. The article featured libraries and their directors in Montgomery, Selma and Demopolis.
In 1998, the Foundation started in Alabama by making computers available at libraries in poor communities. At the time, Bill Gates said the project's goal was that "anybody who can get to a library can get to the Internet." Now, according to Alabama Public Library Service Director Rebecca Mitchell, that goal has been achieved in Alabama.
The Atmore Public Library received one server and one computer several years ago, according to Asst. Librarian Cathy McKinley. "We would not be able to provide the services we have for our patrons if we hadn't received them," McKinley said. The Atmore library only had one computer for internet use at the time it received the server and computer from the Gates Foundation.
The Gates gift allowed every county in the state to have Internet access in its public libraries, she said. Most libraries have multiple access points, so "every citizen has access to the Web," she said.
In Alabama, the Gates Foundation has given $2.6 million to the state's libraries, putting 588 personal computers into 251 library facilities. By the end of the year, Gates will have completed its plan to reach the majority of public libraries in all 50 states-47,200 computers in 10,915 facilities.