Texas Public Libraries Encouraged to Apply for Federal Broadband Funding Through State Library

New promotional video from TSLAC to support E-rate and the Libraries Connecting Texas program

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) has announced the application window for federal E-Rate funding is now open. From Jan. 12, accredited Texas public libraries can apply to receive discounts on monthly Internet access costs and most anything to do with bringing high-speed Internet to the library (including equipment and cabling).

E-rate was created to ensure schools and libraries have access to affordable high-speed broadband to support digital learning and robust connectivity. It is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In Texas, a majority of public libraries are eligible for an 80% discount, with more than a quarter eligible for a whopping 90%. That means most participating libraries only have to pay 10-20% of their Internet costs, with E-rate paying the rest of the bill. High-speed Internet (aka “broadband”) has become a necessity in public libraries, and E-rate is the chief means to support and sustain this crucial service as costs rise and demand increases. This is non-competitive funding—a library just has to fill out the forms correctly to receive the discount. Libraries must be accredited by TSLAC in order to be eligible for E-rate discounts.

This year, TSLAC has partnered with professional coaching firm E-Rate Central to make applying as straightforward as possible for participating libraries. This one-on-one support will guide applicants successfully through the entire process.

“Why should your library participate in E-rate and use our free coaches? E-rate is the main method available to public libraries to acquire and afford faster speed, and then continue to sustain those costs into the future,” said TSLAC Director and State Librarian Gloria Meraz. “Faster speed means that Texas libraries are able to continue providing the myriad services that heavily rely on high-speed broadband and have rapidly become the lifeline for living successfully in the 21st century.”

Accredited Texas public libraries are encouraged to apply well before the deadline of February 22, 2022 which is the last possible date to ensure participation. Visit www.tsl.texas.gov/erate to learn more and email Henry Stokes to get the process started.

Two free online training programs to advance digital inclusion

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission invites your library to participate in a new peer-learning program from January 2022 to June 2022. This program is designed to build public libraries’ capacity and skill to collect, analyze, and communicate data and demonstrate the vital role of public libraries in advancing digital equity in their communities. Participation is free for public libraries in Texas. Registration is open until January 7, 2022.
 
Your library can participate in one or both tracks: 

  • Digital Inclusion Action Cohort: This peer-learning cohort will support library staff in measuring and planning digital inclusion programs and services. Libraries will attend a series of workshops over a six-month period. The series includes defining digital equity, understanding broadband access, determining device access and assessing digital literacy. 
  • Data Fluency Cohort: This peer-learning cohort will support library staff in deepening their understanding of data and data-informed decision-making. Libraries will attend a series of workshops over a six-month period. The series includes an introduction to data fluency, collecting, understanding, and using community, library and program data, and communicating data. Libraries will be presented with an opportunity to use other Edge features later in the program. 

Reserve your spot in one or both of these cohort tracks today!

Interested in learning more? Join us on Wednesday, December 1, 2022, from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. for a live online information session.

Questions? Contact Cindy Fisher, Digital Inclusion Consultant at cfisher@tsl.texas.gov or Lourdes Aceves, Director of Edge, at laceves@urbanlibraries.org.

HHH: Hodgepodge

Logo for Henry's Hightech Highlights

Howdy, y’all! It’s the Halloween edition of Henry’s High-Tech Highlights, and I am here to heap a hefty hoard of handy hyperlinks to heighten your happiness, hopefully. A hodgepodge, if you will.

Today’s highlight: A variety of emerging technologies of interest to libraries.


A Palm-size Robot Pet that Helps Teach STEM

Meet Petoi Bittle, an open source, build-your-own pet robot dog that fits in the palm of your hand and can be programmed to perform tricks. It’s great for STEM programming as it integrates with Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

Close up photo of the Petoi Bittle (small robot dog) perched on someone's fingertips.
An animated gif of a robot dog walking along a desktop.


New Virtual Escape Room That Teaches Misinformation

Be one of 10 public libraries nationwide that will host a special Zoom escape room that teaches patrons about misinformation.

A logo for the Misinformation Escape Room

“Is your public library looking for a fun way to teach community members about spotting misinformation in social media? Do you know people in your community who like to solve puzzles, play live-action adventure games, or who are craving some structured social activity? If so, your library can apply to be one of ten across the U.S. to host and evaluate an online escape room game, The Euphorigen Investigation. As part of a project led by the University of Washington Information School (UW iSchool), this game was developed in response to library staff who asked for ways to help patrons navigate misinformation beyond traditional information literacy programs. Euphorigen builds upon the success of other online games about misinformation, and has been designed for and tested by public libraries.”

“To indicate your library’s interest, please fill out this short form by November 10, 2021. The ten public libraries will be selected based on capacity and commitment to host the Euphorigen virtual escape room during January – March 2022, and to participate in data collection procedures. The project team seeks a group of libraries that represent a variety of library sizes, geographies, and communities. See below for more details and how to apply.”


AI Innovation Rundown

In case you didn’t know, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can now:


Augmented Reality (AR) Spectacles Can Guide in Mountain Climbing

Animated gif that shows the point of view of a mountain climber seeing super-imposed symbols that show which parts of the cliff wall should be reached for next.

These smart glasses in development include a way to make rock climbing more accessible for beginners. There’s even a dancing monster that appears to celebrate reaching the summit.


Turn Any Paper into a Tablet

Photo of hands holding a piece of paper with a number keypad on it.

Engineers at Purdue University developed a simple printing process that renders any paper or cardboard packaging into a keyboard, keypad or other easy-to-use human-machine interfaces.

“I envision this technology to facilitate the user interaction with food packaging, to verify if the food is safe to be consumed, or enabling users to sign the package that arrives at home by dragging their finger over the box to properly identify themselves as the owner of the package… Additionally, our group demonstrated that simple paper sheets from a notebook can be transformed into music player interfaces for users to choose songs, play them and change their volume.”ld mean your food packages.”

Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor in Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering and in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering


Only A Few Days Left to Apply for Texas Telehealth Funding!

Act now to take advantage of available funds set aside by TSLAC for Texas libraries to pursue telehealth projects.

Instructions for how to apply are here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/arpa/telehealth

Symbol of a library building embedded with a laptop displaying virtual doctor's visit

Want to set up a space at your library for your patrons to have virtual visits with doctors?  Funding from the Texas Telehealth Grant includes the following:

  • Networking equipment and cables
  • Computer hardware, software, and accessories
  • Furniture
  • Camera/video equipment/accessories
  • Portable ring lights/lamps
  • Sound baffles
  • Teleconferencing kiosk(s)
  • Mobile devices and related apps
  • Printers/scanners
  • IT support (computer/web)
  • Staff training
  • Medical supplies
  • Sanitation/infection prevention
  • Marketing and promotion

The maximum grant award will be $25,000 for a single library location and $50,000 for a multi-branch library. After notice of success, TSLAC will provide training to successful applicants to help finalize their grant budgets.

The deadline to submit applications is this Friday October 1, so APPLY NOW!

Check out these excellent resources to inform your applications:

Front cover of the SaferCareTX Pottsboro Playbook
Cover of Craig Settles' Library Telehealth Guide
First slide from "Establishing aTelehealth Center in Your Library" presentation

Second Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) Window, Plus: Share Your ECF Thoughts With ALA

The second Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) Program Application Filing Window opens on September 28, 2021, and will close on October 13, 2021. This federal funding is for accredited public libraries to receive hotspots, lendable laptops, or Internet equipment and services for patron use outside of the library building.

Is ECF right for your library?

ECF does have requirements to be aware of:

  1. You must have an active FCC Registration Number, SAM.gov registration, and login to the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) to participate.
  2. To receive ECF funds on internet access, you must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which, among other things, requires filtering on all of the library-owned computers.
  3. If you want to avoid having to filter, however, libraries do not have to be CIPA-compliant to get ECF funding for hotspot hardware and computers as long as they aren’t receiving ECF for internet access. You would NOT be able to use ECF for hotspot service (cellular data plan), however, without filtering. Note: Patron-owned computers never have to be filtered.
  4. Patrons receiving a circulated hotspot/connected device purchased with ECF will need to receive an eligible use policy from you and must sign and return a statement that says they lack the connectivity support at home.
  5. You need to maintain inventories of devices and services purchased with ECF support. Examples of what the inventories must include are: (a) device type, and; (b) name of the person the device was loaned to and the dates the device was loaned and returned.
  6. You must also maintain a record of the services purchased including: (a) type of service (e.g.,cable, fiber, wireless), (b) upload and download speeds; and (c) name of the person who received the service.
  7. You must retain records for at least 10 years from the last date of service or delivery of equipment funded by the ECF. This appears to mean that the information collected in the above Certification of need (# 2 above) and Inventories sections must be retained for 10 years.
  8. You are prohibited from selling or transferring equipment for three years after its purchase. After this, equipment may be sold, transferred, disposed of, donated, or traded.

If you have additional questions or need assistance, please reach out to TSLAC’s library technology consultant Henry Stokes (hstokes@tsl.texas.gov).


What is your library’s experience with ECF so far?

The American Library Association is seeking information about the library experience with the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund program. If your library applied for ECF funding, strongly considered applying but did not apply, or is considering applying in the second application window (September 28- October 13) please fill out this short survey. Responses are anonymous and it should take less than 10 minutes to fill it out. ALA will use the aggregated data in their advocacy efforts with the FCC to seek improvements to the ECF program.

Please take a few minutes and fill out the survey. Deadline for responding is Wednesday, October 6.

Take ALA’s ECF Survey

Apply Now for Federal ECF Funding for Hotspots and Devices

As previously announced in June, the window is now open for the next 44 days (June 29 to August 13)  for accredited public libraries to apply for the federal Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) in order to purchase hotspots, lendable laptops, or Internet equipment and services for patron use outside of the library building.

There is now an ECF official website that has training and a place to enter your email address to receive official announcements, including upcoming training opportunities.

Is ECF right for your library?

ECF does have requirements to be aware of:

  1. You must have an active FCC Registration Number, SAM.gov registration, and login to the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) to participate.
  2. To receive ECF funds on internet access, you must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which, among other things, requires filtering on all of the library-owned computers.
  3. If you want to avoid having to filter, however, libraries do not have to be CIPA-compliant to get ECF funding for hotspot hardware and computers as long as they aren’t receiving ECF for internet access. You would NOT be able to use ECF for hotspot service (cellular data plan), however, without filtering.  Note: Patron-owned computers never have to be filtered.
  4. Patrons receiving a circulated hotspot/connected device purchased with ECF will need to receive an eligible use policy from you and must sign and return a statement that says they lack the connectivity support at home.
  5. You need to maintain inventories of devices and services purchased with ECF support. Examples of what the inventories must include are: (a) device type, and; (b) name of the person the device was loaned to and the dates the device was loaned and returned.
  6. You must also maintain a record of the services purchased including: (a) type of service (e.g.,cable, fiber, wireless), (b) upload and download speeds; and (c) name of the person who received the service.
  7. You must retain records for at least 10 years from the last date of service or delivery of equipment funded by the ECF. This appears to mean that the information collected in the above Certification of need (# 2 above) and Inventories sections must be retained for 10 years.
  8. You are prohibited from selling or transferring equipment for three years after its purchase. After this, equipment may be sold, transferred, disposed of, donated, or traded.

If you have additional questions or need assistance, please reach out to TSLAC’s library technology consultant Henry Stokes (hstokes@tsl.texas.gov) who has begun an email list for any Texas libraries interested in ECF or future funding opportunities for hotspot/connected device lending (and there are more coming!). Let him know you’d like to be added so you can stay up to date with news and resources.

Give TSLAC Feedback About Two New Tech Funding Opportunities

TSLAC is planning to launch two upcoming Texas library technology grant programs—telehealth and digital navigators—both made possible by emergency pandemic funding. If you are from a Texas library, we’d love to get your input!

Opportunity 1: Telehealth

TSLAC is planning to provide a grant opportunity that would provide awarded libraries the equipment and resources needed to implement a telehealth program at their library facilities. Telehealth at the library is when Internet networks and computers are used to help facilitate visits between health care providers and library patrons.

Opportunity 2: Digital Navigators

TSLAC is planning to provide training, funding, and resources to awarded libraries to implement a Digital Navigators program for their community. Digital Navigators are individuals who address the whole digital inclusion process—home connectivity, devices, and digital skills—with community members through repeated interactions. A trained Digital Navigator will be able to assess a community member’s need, and competently guide them towards resources that are suitable both for their skill level and lifestyle.


You can now watch a recording of TSLAC’s webinar last week describing the two programs in development. In addition to an overview provided by staff from TSLAC’s Continuing Education and Consulting Department, you’ll hear from two pioneers in these areas: Dianne Connery of Pottsboro Library (TX) discussing her telehealth pilot, and Shauna Edson and Justin Strange of Salt Lake City Public Library (UT) discussing their Digital Navigators project. Please note: Although you can watch the recording as a guest without logging in to our online course page, you’ll want to be sure to log in and enroll in the course if you’d like to receive 1 hour of Continuing Education (CE) credit.

Are you interested in one or both of these opportunities? Do you foresee any obstacles to taking advantage of them? Are there reasons why they wouldn’t be a good fit for your library right now? Please let us know your thoughts by taking the following survey (less than 10 minutes) by Tuesday, July 6.

Survey link: http://s.alchemer.com/s3/Funding-for-Telehealth-and-Digital-Navigators

Thank you! We look forward to getting your input to ensure these programs best meet your library’s needs.

For questions about the telehealth program, please contact Henry Stokes at hstokes@tsl.texas.gov. For questions about Digital Navigators, please contact Cindy Fisher at cfisher@tsl.texas.gov.

Upcoming Webinar: Tech Care of Your Community with Two TSLAC Tech Grant Programs!

Join TSLAC’s Digital Inclusion and Library Technology Consultants Cindy Fisher and Henry Stokes as they introduce two upcoming Texas library technology grant programs in development—telehealth and digital navigators—made possible by emergency pandemic funding.

Attendees will hear about a telehealth initiative from Dianne Connery of Pottsboro Library (TX) and a technology support and computer device access program called Digital Navigators from Shauna Edson and Justin Strange of Salt Lake City Public Library (UT). After learning about these programs, you’ll be invited to provide your interest and feedback on implementing these programs in your community.

Webinar Title: Funding for Telehealth and Digital Navigators, Two Programs In Development for Texas Libraries

When: Thursday, June 24, 11 am to 12 noon Central

CE Credit: 1 hour

Registration Link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3978740470804071696

Public Libraries Can Apply for New Summer-Only Federal Program – Special Funding for Lending Hotspots and Devices

To address the widening digital divide and Homework Gap, the FCC recently created the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF). Accredited public libraries are invited to apply for this special funding in the next couple of months (June to August – exact dates TBD).

Illustration of librarian looking patriotic and standing in front of a transmitting WiFi router

If you’re a public library considering purchasing hotspots, lendable laptops, or Internet equipment and services for patron use outside of the library building for the time frame of July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, then this is a great opportunity to have most of your costs covered—but you’ll have to act soon. The window to apply will only last for 45 days and will start in mid- to late June.

What can you get with ECF?

  • WiFi hotspots (including on bookmobiles) at a maximum reimbursement of $250 per hotspot
  • WiFi hotspot service plans at 100% reimbursement
  • Modems, routers, and devices that combine a router and modem at 100% reimbursement
  • Connected devices (laptops, tablets) at a maximum reimbursement of $400 per device
  • Broadband connectivity to connect the otherwise unconnected (beyond the library building) at 100% reimbursement ( must be commercially available unless none is available)

Here are the major details to know:

  • Applications will be made using a version of the E-rate’s Form 471, and applicants must have an E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) account and a SAM registration to apply, but unlike E-rate, no competitive bidding is required.
  • Applicants must keep an inventory of devices provided to individuals, including who the device was loaned to and when it was returned (similar to other circulation records) and documentation must be retained for 10 years.
  • Libraries with higher E-rate discounts (plus a 5% bonus to those with rural status) will receive funding before those with lower discounts. This means that applicants in the lower discount bands may receive no funding. Contact Henry Stokes at hstokes@tsl.texas.gov to find out your library’s current E-rate discount.
  • The library applicant will likely have to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to receive the funding for most reimbursement requests.
Graphic of an exasperated person peering at a long list

Come learn more

There will be a webinar for Texas public libraries conducted by the staff at E-rate Central (TSLAC’s Libraries Connecting Texas partner) on Thursday, June 10, 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Tile: Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) and Public Libraries

Description: A webinar for Texas librarians who want to know more about the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) and its implication for libraries. During the webinar we will discuss the rules, the process and the timetable during which the ECF program will be implemented. Henry Stokes will be on the call to answer specific questions about implementation of the program in Texas libraries.

When: Jun 10, 2021 02:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance for this webinar:

https://centraled.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_8S_SV0HXR1eFRSm_OX_vpA

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Other resources to check out

Illustration of a librarian holding ethernet cord in Word War 2 era style poster

Please contact Henry Stokes, State E-rate Coordinator for Texas Libraries at TSLAC for further questions and assistance

The Results Are In! – 2021 TSLAC Texas Public Library Speed Test

In March 2021, TSLAC conducted its fourth Texas Public Library Speed Test, which provided a snapshot of public library Internet speeds across Texas. As we had done in 2016, 2017, and 2019, we provided an online network speed test tool for public libraries throughout Texas to test the Internet speed at each of their locations on a wired public access computer. The results (download and upload speed in Megabits per second, or Mbps) were automatically recorded for TSLAC to compile. For the 2021 test, 62% of accredited public libraries in Texas participated. Network speeds from 444 locations were collected, representing 314 main libraries.  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) outlined broadband targets for libraries and schools participating in the E-rate program in the E-rate Modernization Order. The Order adopted the following targets recommended by ALA (American Library Association):

  • 100 Mbps or greater – libraries serving fewer than 50,000 people
  • 1 Gbps (Gigabit per second) or greater – libraries serving more than 50,000 people

In a separate action, the FCC recommended a minimum speed of 25 Mbps per household in 2015.

At the conclusion of the Texas Public Library Speed Test, TSLAC cross-referenced the collected data to the FCC’s broadband targets based on respondents’ population size.

Significant findings

Since the last test in December 2019, there has been a:

  • 3% increase of libraries meeting the FCC standards for their population size
  • 5% increase of libraries now exceeding 25 Mbps download (the minimum FCC benchmark for households)
  • 7% increase of smaller libraries now meeting their benchmark of at least 100 Mbps download
  • 26% increase of larger libraries now higher than 100 Mbps and less than 1 Gbps

TSLAC’s efforts the last few years to promote high speed Internet and E-rate discounts to public libraries, as well as its successful Libraries Connecting Texas (LCT) program, have had a noticeable impact.

Badge that indicates TSLAC has provided library high-speed Internet
Displayable sticker for eligible participating libraries coming soon

But we still have a way to go. The test results indicate that as much two-thirds of Texas public libraries are below national broadband standards for libraries. In addition, 18% of reporting Texas public libraries did not meet the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband for individual households (25 Mbps). The 82 libraries that did not meet this minimum standard serve over 4 million Texans. Public libraries providing patron computers and Wi-Fi access face greater demands than household networks, requiring faster speeds for patrons to efficiently access distance learning, e-government information, and employment opportunities. The pandemic has only further put the disparities of access in stark relief.

Thank you to the public libraries for participating in TSLAC’s public library speed tests. We plan to conduct more in the future to measure impact and help us determine the current statewide needs for broadband. Collecting this data on regular basis benefits the entire Texas library community and will help us as we work to ensure that every Texan has the Internet access they need.