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SU School of Information Studies students participate in Gates Foundation’s U.S. Library Program
SU School of Information Studies students participate in Gates Foundation’s U.S. Library ProgramMarch 24, 2001Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
While computer technology seems to permeate every aspect of society, a gap still exists between those who have access to the technology and those who do not. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Library Program is dedicated to bridging the digital divide by providing computer hardware and software to libraries in low-income communities across the country. The School of Information Studies is one of only two schools in New York state chosen by the Gates Foundation to participate in an internship program that provides technical support and training for libraries that receive a Gates Foundation grant, and a year’s tuition and cash stipend for students who are selected as Gates Foundation interns. To qualify for the internship, the students must be enrolled in a graduate library science program in a school that is accredited by the American Library Association. Three students in the School of Information Studies were awarded a 2001-02 Gates Foundation Internship. Ann Marshall, Wendy Mokes and Karin Sondej are all first-year library science graduate students. As part of the internship, the students work 20 hours a week in libraries across the state. Marshall, Mokes and Sondej found out about the Gates Internship when they applied for the school’s Master of Library Science (MLS) program. The interns were not chosen for their technical skills; rather, the selection process was based upon their experience, their personality and their teaching skills. “This is a great opportunity for the students,” says Jana Bradley, director of the school’s MLS program. “We were delighted our students got the internships.” The interns are trained by Gates Foundation technicians who teach librarians to use computer technology. Because the work is done during the day, the students schedule some of their classes at night. After the Gates staff members move on to another state, the interns continue assisting the librarians, acting as mediators between the librarians and the technicians. “The internship gives us hands-on teaching experience, because a large part of what we do involves assisting library patrons,” Marshall says. “We’re able to talk comfortably about the technology in terms that librarians and patrons can understand.”
The internship also gives students an opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to the situations they encounter in the libraries. “To go out there and see the positives and negatives of this technology makes what we learn much more real,” Marshall says. “It helps me to react to what I’m learning in class.” The interns were trained in Seattle, where in February they attended four days of seminars and classes taught by professionals from different departments in the Gates Foundation. The interns learned the technical aspects of their job by tearing apart a computer, and they learned tips about teaching adult learners. “This is such an exciting program,” Marshall says. “You can really see how it makes a fundamental difference for people who have never had an opportunity to access the Internet.” When it began in 1997, the U.S. Library Program was one of the first major philanthropic ventures of the Gates Foundation. Since that time, the program has made grants to more than 5,800 libraries in the United States, installed more than 25,000 PCs, and trained 7,000 librarians. The program is dedicated to providing increased public access to computers, the Internet and digital information to library patrons in low-income communities in the United States. It is anticipated that by the end of 2003, 10,000 libraries in 50 states will have benefited from the $200 million total investment from the foundation. “I feel really good working with this program,” Mokes says. “It is amazing to be able to help people who are excited about finally getting access to technology.”