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Digital Equity Grants

Issues in Librarianship

Published : Aug. 28, 2023
Last Updated: Sep. 12, 2023 - 10:23 am
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Featured Program: Digital Equity Capacity Kickstarter Grant

IHLS encourages public libraries to apply for the Digital Equity Capacity Kickstarter (DECK) grant offered by the Illinois Office of Broadband (IOB). The projects the grant funds are scalable, and our Membership Coordinators can provide expert consultation on grant writing. So, even small libraries can—and should—apply! In fact, the DECK program has specific funds available to help public libraries provide Affordable Connectivity Program outreach and community technology centers.

Applications will be accepted until funds run out.

Anticipated FAQs

What kinds of programs qualify for the grant?

The grant will fund projects and initiatives supporting digital skill building, broadband adoption, use, and device access. For libraries, this means community technology centers (offering devices like public access computers, mobile hotspots, wireless printing, Chromebooks, etc.) or digital literacy education and outreach programming. The DECK grant program has specific funds available to help public libraries provide Affordable Connectivity Program outreach and community technology centers.

How will the applications be judged?

The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) outlines several criteria broken down by point value (total of 100 points). For ease of reading, we've placed those criteria and their point values into a table that resembles a rubric, available here.

What registrations and documents do we need to have in addition to the grant materials?

You need:

My library doesn't have IT staff, and I don't know much about computers. Is there any support available for us?

IHLS is considering applying for funding that would enable us to offer more robust, in-person support to our members. However, we're at the beginning stages of this endeavor. For now, we encourage you to reach out to our IT staff for remote assistance or use one of these resources.

 

No one at my library has ever written a grant like this before. Can IHLS help me?

Yes! Our Membership Team has experience applying for grants and offers one-on-one consulting. Reach out to one of our Membership Coordinators or our Associate Director here. If you're not ready to speak to another person about your grant application, we recommend looking into these resources to help you prepare your application.

 

Can I get more mileage out of this grant application?

Yes! Many of the required registrations and paperwork are a one-time task that will allow you to apply for other state and federal grants more easily, so applying will open some doors for you. And you can always reuse the text in your application for additional grant applications so that the work won't go to waste. See our "similar grants" FAQ for information on other opportunities for you to make the most use of your grant-writing work.

Why should I get my library involved in broadband expansion efforts?

In the last few decades, digital literacy and internet access have grown increasingly necessary for full participation in professional, academic, political, social, and economic spheres—a trend that will only continue as more and more of our world moves online. From the shift to web-based job recruitment to the adoption of online learning management systems in education, individual and community development are inextricably linked to computer use. Unsurprisingly, then, the lack of digital skills and access is most common among economically disadvantaged households, racial minorities, women, seniors, and rural communities both globally and stateside—a phenomenon known as the digital divide. Bridging this divide, or working toward digital equity, is necessary for empowering these communities—empowering our communities.

Libraries are already key players in digital equity efforts, offering access to computers and printers, user training, research support, and much more. As such, your library is uniquely positioned to increase service adoption as state and federal broadband expansion efforts roll out. You can do so by providing up-to-date community technology centers, expanded digital literacy education programming, and the like—efforts that this grant can help fund!

Plus, your support for digital equity at your library may boost your program attendance and overall use!

More information available here: Why does broadband matter?

Do I really need to provide more computers and devices? Doesn't everyone have smartphones and Wi-Fi now, anyway?

This is a common misconception. In rural and urban areas alike, there still exists a digital divide whereby economically disadvantaged folks are less likely to have access to the internet or the skills required to use it effectively and safely. According to Illinois Broadband Lab, basic internet service is unavailable to over 285,000 households in Illinois, and more than 1.1 million residents in the state lack the devices and necessary skills to access the internet. So, by providing access to internet-connected devices and digital literacy education, your library would be meeting a serious need in your area.

Can you recommend some similar grants?

The following ongoing or annual grants can help you achieve similar digital equity goals. While the deadline is past for most of these, we anticipate they'll begin accepting applications for a new cycle in the coming months—giving you time to prepare your application!)

Can I see some examples of community technology centers at other libraries?

Large & medium libraries

Small/rural libraries

IHLS libraries

News

 

What is a community technology center?

A General Explanation. Community technology centers (CTCs) are public spaces offering free access to the internet, as well as computers, printers, and other technology. There, members of the public are invited to use these resources for all kinds of education, research, communication, entertainment, administrative, and creative pursuits. These spaces typically also offer user training (formal or informal), helping users develop digital literacy and technological skills. As a result, CTCs are invaluable assets to rural and underserved communities where large swaths of the population lack access to these resources at home. At community technology centers, patrons can complete college and job applications, learn internet safety, register to vote, connect with old friends online, and much more!

Your Library's CTC. When the term "community technology center" was popularized in the late '90s and early '00s, CTCs mostly offered public-access computers with internet connections, printers, and knowledgeable staff. These days, most public libraries provide those resources anyway--even if they don't use the term "community technology center." If your library doesn't offer those fundamentals, you could use a digital equity grant and the resources listed on this page to set up your CTC. If your library already offers internet, computers, printers, and education, you can still use a digital equity grant to upgrade or expand your existing resources. Whichever group you fall into, our membership and IT experts can help you figure it out.

How do I even start or run a community technology center?

Check out the following resources for guidance: