The Unicoi County Public Library was presented with a Training Opportunities for the Public grant by Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and state Sen. Steve Southerland last month.
The $4,898 grant will be used to buy solar charging stations, Wi-Fi hotspots and to pay for instructors to provide training for library visitors.
“I am proud of the Unicoi County Public Library for receiving this important grant that will invest in new technologies for our citizens and ensure the library can continue to serve our communities,” Southerland said. “I appreciate the work of Secretary Hargett for administering these grants and commend local officials for their efforts to secure these funds.”
TOP Grants are available for public libraries to provide digital literacy training to the public. The grant will fund Wi-Fi hot spots and solar charging stations, while increasing internet access at the library and funding the Digital Navigators pilot project.
“A circulating hot spot is a device that can be checked out from the library that will enable you to connect to the internet in any location. This is especially important for folks that have limited connectivity in their home or have inconsistent internet service,” explained UCPL Director Suzy Bomgardner.
“In our mountainous region, this is especially important,” she added.
Bomgardner said the grant will pay for the data service until the end of June.
“A solar-powered charging bench is something we are very excited about, as it promotes sustainable energy and will allow our patrons a place to charge their devices, even after library hours,” she said. “We hope to have this grace our front entrance soon and serve our community in perpetuity.”
Bomgardner added that support for the library from local and state officials is important.
“It is critical for state and local officials to support the library in this way, as we’ve seen over the past few years how vital technological literacy is, whether it’s connecting on zoom with family members over quarantines, applying for remote positions, or furthering education through online courses,” she said. “By partnering with local libraries in this, our elected officials can tangibly show their investment in their community by providing the resources libraries need to do this hands-on work. Technology is a gateway to strengthening connections and accessing information you might not otherwise have access to.
“Libraries strive for equal access for all citizens and by empowering folks with a skill set to use technology in everyday ways, you open doors for employment, connection, and education. To quote Charles Sherrill, State Librarian and Archivist, ‘Public libraries are often the only place in town where residents have access to free technology and free training in its use.’ The Unicoi County Public Library recognizes the needs of our community and desires to bridge the gap by meeting those technology needs in a multitude of ways. We’ve had a great response already to the Senior Savvy computer classes and we are excited about being able to offer more technology classes with funding from this grant.”
Hargett said that the Unicoi County Public Library is an important hub for the community to learn and grow.
“These are your tax dollars coming back home to you,” said Hargett. “They’re not my dollars. They’re your dollars coming back here. So, we’re delighted to be able to do it.”
Bomgardner added she is thankful for Secretary Hargett’s generosity.
“He added additional funding from his own department to help provide the resources for the TOP Grant,” she said.