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Report: Many Tribal Libraries Lack Computers, Broadband

Tribal libraries lag behind the nation's public libraries when it comes to offering computer workstations, digital education, and broadband Internet, according to a recently released report.

The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) released "Digital Inclusion in  Native Communities: The Role of Tribal Libraries," which examined the capacity of tribal libraries to offer digital access and education to local communities. The report found that 89 percent of tribal libraries that responded to a 2013 survey offer Internet access to patrons, compared to 100 percent of public libraries. At least 40 percent of tribal libraries lacked broadband Internet, and 14 percent of tribal libraries did not offer public computer workstations. While 87 percent of rural public libraries and 90 percent of all public libraries offer training in technology, only 42 percent of tribal libraries offer similar training. 

"Native communities are lagging behind the rest of America in digital access for Native citizens and thus are at a distinct socio-economic disadvantage," said Letitia Chambers, Board Chair of ATALM in a statement. "The Federal Communications Commission, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and other federal, state, and tribal authorities have recognized improved broadband access as an important and urgent need."

The report suggested that tribal libraries could be an important education tool for the communities they serve by offering homework help, access to online courses, and historical information. Native students graduate high school at rates far below their peers, and schools that are run by the Bureau of Indian Education are among the lowest performing schools in the nation.  

A recent study of public libraries found disparities between urban and rural libraries. At least 64 percent of urban libraries have increased bandwidth speeds in the past two years, compared to less than half of rural libraries. Although the FCC's E-rate modernization plan aims to improve connectivity at libraries, some rural education organizations have expressed concern that the plan won't help rural schools and libraries enough. 

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