A Technology Center for Missoula
background: the city of Missoula has secured funding from HUD (The Department
of Housing and Urban Development) to develop technology within the
neighborhoods of the city. HUD
supports such efforts as part of its program of “Neighborhood Networks”1. The city is going to distribute ten grants
of $50,000. The University of Montana wants
to get one of these grants to direct a project for a local neighborhood in
need – a project that can be implemented within a year. The following is a proposal for this
Missoula there are locals who for one reason or another do not have
sufficient access to digital technology.
These reasons fall basically into two categories: cost and knowledge.
for example, some students in the primary and secondary schools of the city
come from families with limited resources, which cannot afford the cost of a
laptop or the monthly cost of an Internet connection. These families live throughout the city and
are not localized in a restricted neighborhood or in a large housing complex,
as occurs in larger cities. In fact,
the population of Missoula is only 67,000, which is close to the population
of a single neighborhood in large cities like San Francisco. (For example, the population of the Mission
District, a neighborhood of San Francisco near the center of the city, is
are also adults in their working years who also lack access to the Internet
and computers. It may be that for one
reason or another, the cost of this access is too high for them. They may be unemployed, or working but
living on modest budgets that do not permit such “luxuries.” It may also be that they never have had the
opportunity to learn the basics about using this technology. These people also live and work throughout
addition, some senior citizens also might have limited resources and furthermore
possibly never have had contact with this technology. As is the case with the two groups above,
these persons likewise live throughout the city.
three groups of people need the same things to gain access to digital
technology: a computer, broadband access to the Internet, assistance in using
both, and a place to do it. Due to
their distribution throughout the city (which, remember, is only the size of
a single neighborhood of large cities), it is essential that the place is
located in a building easily accessible by the public. Such a building already exists: the
Mansfield Library of the University of Montana. The library is accessible on foot and by
bus, as well as by car. It has long
hours of operation: from Monday to Friday from 7 am to 1 am, Saturday from 9
am to 7 pm, and Sunday from 9 am to 1 am.
The library has 85 desktop computers and 15 laptops. The desktop computers are hard-wired to the
Internet, and the laptops use the Wi-Fi of the University. Both types of connection are broadband.
times past, use of the desktop computers was available to all of the public –
students and nonstudents alike. In
those days, it was common to see people of all ages using the computers and
the Internet. Of course, there were
university students doing their homework for their university classes. However, there were always a few community
users among them. Some primary and
secondary-school students, often with a parent, used the computers and
Internet access to complete their own homework. Also, some adults of all ages worked on
their projects to investigate something using the Internet access, or write
something using Microsoft Word, or communicate with someone using e-mail, or
compute something using Microsoft Excel or other packages. It was a taste of the library of the
future, in which digital resources take the place of the printed resources of
books and journals. The use of the
computers was unlimited for any user, except that community users were asked
by library personnel to yield a computer after a reasonable time, in times of
high demand. Moreover, no password was
required to use the computers.
However, the laptops were only available for checkout by university
this changed in the summer of 2009.
The administration of the library and the university decided to
restrict the use of most computers to university students. Now, a password available only to
university students is required to log on to on those computers. The library set aside only 7 computers in a
section apart from the rest for use by community users. On those 7, a user obtains access to a
session of only one hour.
reason given by the university for the change was some “conflicts” between
students and community users over the use of the computers. It is probable, however, that both groups
were simply reacting to the limited number of computers. Moreover, among the community users there
seemed to have been three problematic individuals, who caused 80 percent of
the conflicts, which seemed to relate more between them and the library staff
than with students. One of the
individuals is probably a schizophrenic, and the other two seem to have
severe personality disorders. In fact,
the new arrangement did not remedy the problems with these three: the
schizophrenic and one of the other two eventually were banned from the entire
university, while the third had left shortly after the change on his
own. By contrast, it appears that the
vast majority of users, both university and community, do not present these
types of problems and can easily work side by side – as had existed before
the change in policy.
effect of this policy change has been dramatic and in many respects has
essentially blocked community users from the “digital library.” The former users of young students from the
primary and secondary schools are almost totally absent now. Even among adults, it does not seem that
now there is the same diversity of users as before. The use is so restrictive that it appears
that many community users simply cannot do their investigations and work, or
find it too uncomfortable to be feasible in the new arrangement. One gets the impression that now there only
are a few diehard users who refuse to quit.
A computer systems administrator characterized the community users as
the university restricts the use of its broadband Wi-Fi only to university
students. So, even if a visitor has
his own laptop, he can’t use it because he can’t connect it to the Internet. The university already has the ability to
provide Wi-Fi for visitors. The system
already is in place for doing it, and sometimes the university in fact does
do it – as during orientations for new students. In effect, it’s only necessary to flip a
switch. Nevertheless, the policy is to
deny access in this manner, in general.
The university cites various reasons for this situation, like some
policies of the Montana university system, or some requirements of the
Department of Homeland Security, or “competition” with the private sector. However, the fact is that her sister
university, Montana State University in Bozeman, does have Wi-Fi for
visitors. If that university can do
it, the same is true of this university.
Other universities throughout the United States also have this access
– like, for example, the University of Arizona in Tucson, the University of
New Mexico in Albuquerque, and the University of Washington in Seattle. Besides, this very university turns Wi-Fi
on for visitors when it feels like it.
In other words, yes, it is possible to have a Wi-Fi system for
visitors, and many universities do so – including this one, at times.
a state university, the university obtains much funding from the state and
federal governments. Because of that,
it has an obligation to make its facilities accessible to the public. Among the staff of the Montana State
University Library in Bozeman, there is a strong recognition of this
obligation. In fact, except for sports
like football, there is probably no better way to showcase the university to
the public than with a library equipped with modern digital technology
accessible by community users.
these things and history in mind, it is proposed that the best use of a
$50,000 grant for a project to develop technology within neighborhoods of our
city, to be directed by the university, is the following. It is proposed that the university use the
entire grant to purchase and equip some laptops for use in the Mansfield
Library by community users. For this
amount, it will be possible to buy and equip about 50 laptops, or perhaps a
few more. The laptops should have
• an HD screen with an “aspect ratio” of
16:9, which is the size of modern HD television,
• a high speed, multi-core processor,
• the Windows 7 operating system, Home
• Microsoft Office 2010, Professional
• the ability to connect to Wi-Fi,
• an integral camera for video conversations
• Norton “Internet Security” antivirus
• Computrace and LoJack’s “Pro Premium” anti-theft protection.
people might suggest using the public library instead of Mansfield, but for
various reasons this isn’t the best plan.
The project is to be directed by the university. The university has control over its own
domain, but that’s not the case with the public library. The university would not have the
confidence that its intention was going to be implemented in the other
environment. The personnel of the
public library, as is probably the case in many libraries, seem to be
struggling to understand how digital technology is going to change the
function of a library in the future.
Their point of view still might be more “old library” than “new
library.” For example, in fact they
have just received a substantial grant.
What did they buy? They spent
$250,000 for a van for a “bookmobile” – instead of using those funds for
investment in digital technology. In
Mansfield Library, it will be assured that the project is going to go as
order to get these funds, it is proposed that it is a requirement that the
university has to “flip the switch” and turn on the existing Wi-Fi for
visitors, and continue to provide this service for these 50 laptops, as well
as for any other visitor with his own laptop.
access is a key issue in any discussion about the “digital divide.” Some people (notably, cellular service
vendors) say that the solution is a subscription to broadband service with a
wireless telephone company, like Verizon or AT&T. However, this service still is very
expensive and very limited in the amount of data that can be
transferred. Certainly, it would not
be possible for someone of limited resources to even consider it. Moreover, even if someone can afford one,
the transfer limit excludes serious work.
Actually, a system like that of the university is needed, with many
users, so that statistically the average use is reasonable. While one person is working locally on his
computer, another person can be downloading from the Internet.
this is acceptable to the university, the next step will be to buy the 50
laptops. The method will be to contact
several laptop vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sony, and Toshiba,
with the desired characteristics listed above. The goal will be to obtain the best
performance with the least cost. Due
to the fact that the university qualifies for price reductions as an
educational institution, as well as discounts for multiple units, it will undoubtedly
be possible to buy at least 50 laptops of high quality and functionality.
the 50 new laptops ought to be available for checkout by community
users. This use of the grant will
maximize the benefit for the people of the Missoula neighborhood. Also, it takes into consideration existing
resources, such as the library building with its long hours of operation, as
well as the knowledgeable staff there.
user should be able to check out one of these laptops for “day use” in the
library. That is, there should not be
time limits like one or two hours, as is common, but it should only be
necessary to return the laptop before leaving the library that day. As a security measure, the laptops should
be equipped with electronic tags that sound an alarm if anyone tries to
remove one from the library.
are library personnel who can provide assistance in using the laptops. There is always a computer technician on
duty, who is an expert in their operation.
In fact, the best way to learn anything in the computing world is by
means of “just-in-time training.” By
this is meant that a person asks a couple of questions about how to do
something and immediately tries to do it on the computer. Then, when his knowledge of the computer
and its systems are better, he asks a couple more questions, etc. If you do not operate in this way, it is
very easy for a person to get lost in the complexity of the world of
computers and the Internet. It is only
easy if it is taken in small steps, one step at a time.
It is possible – although not absolutely necessary – that there
might be some people in the community and the university who would want to
offer classes on some aspects of computers and Internet use. Certainly, this ought to be encouraged. Courses could treat topics such as e-mail,
browsers, search engines, and Microsoft Word and Excel. In general, it is important that users
understand how to find the information that they need and how to use this
information in things like letters or reports in Word.
In this way, the library will become once again a resource for
the neighborhood that includes both the university and Missoula. People of all ages will benefit. Children of the primary and secondary
schools will be able to complete their homework with their parents and the
assistance of the world of information on the Web. People of working age will be able to find
the information that they need in order to better their lives, look for a
job, write a job resume, buy something at the best price, contact someone
using e-mail or Skype, and much more.
Senior citizens will be able to do many of the same things, and
perhaps in some cases will be able to enter a world that they have not had
the opportunity to explore before.
days, access and knowledge of digital technology are essential for any
effort. The world of information no
longer is in books, but now is on the Internet. Without access to computers with
connections to the Internet, this entire world is denied to a person. Therefore, it is important that libraries
like Mansfield make this world as accessible as possible, to as many people
as possible. The program which has
been presented above will do exactly that and will put in place a resource of
immeasurable value for years, for the Missoula neighborhood.
1 HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development). “Neighborhood Networks”. December 29, 2011. In particular, click on “About Neighborhood
Networks” under the icon, and “Neighborhood Networks Work Portal” at the
right center. Consulted December 29,
2011, in http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/housing/mfh/nwn
2 The University of Montana.
Mansfield Library. Consulted
December 25, 2011, in http://www.lib.umt.edu/
3 Google Earth. Missoula,
Montana, the University of Montana, and the Mansfield Library. Tour of the city by satellite view. Consulted December 26, 2011 in the
following, in which you can also look around for yourself using the controls
above to the right or by simply pushing the image with the mouse, if you
4 Google Maps. Missoula,
Montana, the University of Montana, and the Mansfield Library. Satellite view. Consulted December 26,. 2011, in http://maps.google.com/maps