In spring 2009, the Illinois State Library contacted eligible Illinois public libraries with an invitation to participate in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Opportunity Online Hardware Grant Program. The program helps public libraries and their communities build long-term capacity for supporting free computer and Internet access in public libraries. The initiative focuses on libraries that are not able to adequately serve their patrons’ technology needs, and are also serving high-poverty communities with limited access to computers and the Internet. Eligibility is based on economic need and age of computers.
The program has now concluded in Illinois and has been an overwhelming success. The State Library awarded $1,012,050 in Opportunity Online Grant funds provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 109 Illinois library agencies representing 120 library buildings successfully completed all of the requirements for the program.
One of the key components of the program required grantees to raise matching funds equal to or exceeding the partial value of the computers donated. The required match was a useful tool in building local partnerships and practicing advocacy.
Libraries successfully raised $583,778 in matching funds:
- $189,577 from public funds
- $45,298 from foundations or corporations
- $348,903 from fundraising activities and general donations
Participating libraries took part in Turning the Page, an advocacy training program provided by the Public Library Association to build confidence and skills for raising the matching funds.
Using a combination of grant dollars and matching funds, 690 new public access computers were purchased and installed for the benefit of library users in communities across Illinois. These computers, with e-mail and Internet access, are vital tools to help people find jobs, further their education, conduct research and share ideas.
In January, the State Library will submit the final report on behalf of all libraries to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Congratulations to all of the participating libraries! Find a list of the libraries that took part at the WebJunction Illinois website.