Northern libraries going online
Gates Foundation grant to extend service throughout NWT

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Hay River ( May 22/00) - The Internet and a grant from the Gates Foundation will soon be wiring improved library services throughout the Northwest Territories.

Jake Ootes, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) announced last week that the NWT Library Services will receive a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The funding, $323,000, will be used to buy computers and improve Internet access in NWT public libraries. This grant will also fund "virtual libraries" in communities not currently served by the NWT Library system.

"The program's mission is to increase people's access to information through technology and, this goal fits nicely with the objective of the NWT Library Services to give Northerners access to library programs no matter where in the Territories they live," said Ootes.

The Foundation is led by William II Gates, Sr. -- father of Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates -- and has an assets of $21.8 billion. The Foundation's Library Program links up with public libraries to bring access to computers, the Internet, and digital information for patrons in low-income communities throughout the United States and Canada.

The nine existing NWT public libraries will receive computer work stations. Six additional communities will also benefit from the grant through the creation of virtual libraries with full Internet access.

Stuart Ridgely, Distant Learning Systems Administrator for ECE, was one of six persons from the NWT to go to Seattle recently to train for the Foundation library program. He explained that the virtual libraries will allow patrons to borrow books directly over the Internet.

"We currently run an online catalogue of all the books, videos, and films in the NWT library system," Ridgely said.

"It's a searchable catalogue and people can borrow from it by mail."

A mobile training lab, training for library staff, hardware to improve Internet access and one help-desk station are included in the gift. Separately, Microsoft Canada will donate software with a retail value of $92,000 to all libraries receiving foundation grants.

"NWT Library Services is leading the way to providing increased access to all people," said Carol Erickson, International Library Programs Manager of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"The creation and development of virtual libraries will mean that even without a physical library building, citizens of NWT can now benefit from library services and the power of the Internet. "It is the Foundation's hope that this program may be used as a model to reach people worldwide."

According to a press release from the ECE, installation of the virtual libraries in Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic, Fort Good Hope, Fort Liard, Rae-Edzo and Lutsel K'e will begin in September and will be completed before Christmas.