Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Fontana Regional Library last week was awarded a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant in the amount of $46,786 for Mobile Print Access.
“Computer access at the library no longer necessarily means using a library computer as more people bring their own devices to access our Wi-Fi,” explained Fontana Regional Library Director Karen Wallace. “The grant is for people who bring their devices to the library and cannot print from them. Offering mobile will create greater equity of access to resources for our patrons who need print services.”
Wallace explained that once the equipment is in place, possibly sometime in late summer, visitors to any one of the six libraries in three counties, Macon, Jackson, and Swain, can print from tablets, laptops, and phones to the libraries’ printers.
“We will begin to order equipment beginning July 1,” said Wallace. “It may take a few months to get all the pieces together and make it available. But we will have brand new equipment in place.
“Many of our patrons are seniors with a low level of digital experience; they know how to use their own device – often just a phone – but do not have the facility to switch to a public computer in order to print. These patrons face an insurmountable barrier when they can’t access emails or accounts on a library computer.”
LSTA grants are federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that are awarded by the State Library to eligible North Carolina Libraries.
“Our state library in N.C. administers these competitive grants that we apply for on a regular basis,” said Wallace. “We received a $4,000 grant earlier in the spring to buy supplies and PPE [personal protective equipment] to manage our reopening. And we’re looking right now at applying for an additional LSTA grant for digital inclusion, which means more access to the Internet. There is a homework gap, according to a number of surveys, and many families do not have access to the Internet. This really hit home during the pandemic and the spring school semester. It’s really challenging if you don’t have Internet access at home. We have it outside our buildings, so that was a way for people to have access to the Internet, but this grant could allow us to boost the signal.”
Wallace said that Fontana Regional Libraries’ Wi-Fi, which is donated by BalsamWest, is available to anyone. However, a library card is required to check out e- or audio-books or be granted access to other online library resources.