Chapel Hill Public Library received $150,000 in grants from the CARES Act last month to serve marginalized and low-income residents who lack reliable internet and technology access.
On Oct. 13, the Chapel Hill Public Library announced that it will use these funds to expand its technology services.
Meeghan Rosen, the assistant director of Chapel Hill Public Library, said the grant marks the first time the library has received federal funding, as grants are normally allocated by state and local agencies.
According to a press release from the Town of Chapel Hill, the grant will fund the project “Whenever, Wherever, Whyever: Expanding Technology Access." Patrons of the grant initiative include job seekers, low-income residents and historically marginalized populations, according to the press release.
Rosen said the award is an achievement for the library, whose services have been largely inaccessible to the public or at limited operation since the pandemic began in March.
“The argument that we made in our grant application is that during COVID times, the need has become heightened and pronounced, and the gap between people who already have computer and internet access and those who don’t has widened with the closure of so many public facilities,” Rosen said.
The grant was highly sought after by organizations across the United States. Chapel Hill Public Library was one of over 1,700 libraries and museums across the country that applied, according to the press release.
Grant-funded programming will be executed in three phases over the next two years. The first phase is ongoing, having taken off last month, and will serve as the first trial of the grant’s various initiatives.
“Phase One is about immediately implementing a pilot so that we can quickly get resources out into the community, targeting specific areas of need and then learn from that pilot,” Rosen said.
Rosen said among Phase One’s services is a lending program for people to rent laptops and tablets. They are available for curbside pickup from the library.
Phases Two and Three will be developed based off feedback and results of the first phase and will include continued expansion of technology access for the Chapel Hill community.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Jessica Anderson said the grant award is thrilling for the library and the Town.
“What’s so important about this grant is that it is a perfect fit for our overall town goals, not just on a day-to-day basis but also particularly to our COVID response,” Anderson said. “Access to resources, advancing equity — these are explicit goals of our Town and of our COVID response, and being able to meet those goals through this grant is really exciting and huge.”
Anderson serves as the town liaison for the Library Advisory Board, which she said is a role that requires her to provide support and context for library staff who may not be fully informed on Town issues.
Anderson said the existing accessibility issues the Chapel Hill community faces is exacerbated by the pandemic, which is what makes the grant so important for the Town.
“There are a lot of communities in Chapel Hill who don’t have reliable Wi-Fi and reliable computers, and at this point almost everything is online, and if it wasn’t before, now with COVID, it definitely is,” Anderson said.
The public library is rendering the grant’s Phase One services and is open on Mondays and Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays.
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