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Schools and Libraries: The Power is in Your Hands

There was a one-panel comic making the rounds a while back – I don’t remember the exact artist or details, but it was titled something like “Life Before Google.” It featured two people sitting on a sofa in front of the TV. Person 1 says something along the lines of “I just thought of something I’d like to know more about.” Person 2 then says “rats – that stinks!”

I’m old enough to remember when no one had Internet access at home (yeah, yeah, gather ‘round while Gramps spins you a yarn.) When I was a kid, my parents purchased the family a set of World Book encyclopedias – the 1986 edition, to be precise. By no means exhaustive, the set of 22 volumes nevertheless expanded our family’s access to information in ways both educational and entertaining. I remember Mom becoming enamored with this little grey bird that started showing up in the yard one week. It looked decidedly different from the usual robin, blue jay, and cardinal fare in rural southwestern Oklahoma, with a white belly and a mohawk-like tuft of feathers on its head. Not having any birder’s guides on the bookshelf, Mom thumbed through the World Book index, grabbed a volume, and as luck would have it, found our bird. A Tufted Titmouse.  (My brother and I thought this was hysterical for reasons absolutely as juvenile as you might imagine.) From that point on, though, we could spot one immediately.

I received a laptop as a high school graduation gift, which could connect to (my very own!) dial-up Internet account provided that I had access to an open phone line. My freshman dorm roommate didn’t have a computer of his own (and neither of us used the phone that often) so I had the luxury of being connected quite a bit more often than many of my peers who had to trudge over to one of the campus computer labs. And I’ve pretty much been connected ever since:  dial-up gave way to a LAN connection in the dorm, then cable modem connections in off-campus apartments and residences over the years. Now, I’ve got fiber to the home and insanely fast Wi-Fi, along with a 5G phone that could be a backup connection if ever needed one.

And at each connectivity step along the way, my access to information grew wider and deeper.  Not only that, but the way that I engage with the world by having access to that information was transformed. I went from “I wonder if that’s in the World Book” to “huh, that might be on the Internet” to “anything you need to know is in your front left pocket.” It is completely second-nature now.  “Hey, who is that?  He looks really familiar.” (tap tap tap) “Oh yeah, he was in Office Space. He was also the voice of Bill in King of the Hill!

But it’s not all just frivolous TV-Googling. I don’t need to air my personal details here, but access to information enabled me to find resources which very likely saved my mental health as a young adult. Later, access to information told me that those physical symptoms I was experiencing were serious, and that I had better get to a hospital.  I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gone.

Not having Internet access in 2021 isn’t like the days when your most reliable source of information was a set of 1986 World Books. That’s all anybody had back then (and that’s if they were lucky.)  See, now the K-12 students and members of our communities who don’t have access still know that access exists. Let that soak in for a second. There are millions of folks across the country who know precisely the importance of access to online resources and yet cannot access them, many through no fault of their own.

These are high stakes. Schools and libraries now have an opportunity not only to further their curriculum and educational goals, but to fundamentally transform – and maybe even save – the lives of unconnected students and library patrons in their communities. You can find more information about the Emergency Connectivity Fund here, and if you have additional questions about the program please don’t hesitate contact us.

School and library administrators, it’s in your hands. Yes, there is some work involved. But the need is immediate and real, help is available, and the impact you can have is undeniable.

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