Gates Foundation expands U.S. libraries initiative

New investments aim to help low-income libraries keep up with the rapid pace of tech advancement.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a new five-year commitment to its U.S. Libraries Initiative, which helps public libraries in low-income communities keep up with advancements in information technology. The Gates Foundation first began to partner with libraries in 1997 to try to ensure that anyone with access to a public library would in turn have access to the Internet. While this goal has largely been met, the foundation said, libraries in low-income areas have a difficult time maintaining and upgrading their tech facilities.

The new commitment has a fourfold objective: to help more libraries regularly upgrade their computer equipment; to raise the percentage of U.S. libraries that offer high-speed Internet connections; to provide training and technical support to library staff; and to provide advocacy training and offer research about the benefits of library tech so that libraries can work toward continued funding of computers and connectivity. The Gates Foundation, created by the Microsoft co-founder and his wife, also has a Global Libraries Initiative for tech facilities in developing countries. That project was also recently expanded, with $328 million in grants announced in early December. To date, the Gates Foundation has invested $325 million in U.S. public libraries, but no figures were provided for the new commitment.