Close to $2.5 million in grants and services from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Library Initiative will be split among 168 of Oklahoma's 205 public library sites, Gov. Frank Keating and other officials announced Tuesday.
Microsoft is donating another $1.5 million in software to be used with new computer workstations.
"Melinda and I believe in bringing opportunity through technology and education to all people," Gates said. "We are pleased to support the efforts of so many in Oklahoma to ensure that all people have the tools they need to learn and work in the 21st century."
The Metropolitan Library System will receive $169,493 at 15 sites, for eight servers and 52 computers.
Donna Morris, director of public services for the system, said that all but Bethany, Village and Warr Acres libraries will receive the grant funding. She said these facilities, in areas above the poverty threshold, will be eligible for purchasing hardware and software at a discount to provide standardized equipment for the entire system. The Spencer extension facility will also not receive the computer enhancement funding.
Computers are due in the other facilities by mid-December. System technical personnel will receive training in Seattle, Morris said, and they will in turn train other personnel.
"Not since Andrew Carnegie has such a tremendous gift been given to Oklahomans in the form of assistance to libraries," said Keating. "This gift ensures that Oklahomans will have access to the latest information technologies through their public libraries."
Carnegie, a major benefactor behind the proliferation of public libraries early in this century, could never have envisioned an information system through which people could access libraries throughout the world, Keating added.
The governor said the grants will enable Oklahoma to be "a member of the world learning community."
Keating said that one of the challenges facing Oklahoma is to upgrade the knowledge and access of Oklahomans of all ages "in the high-speed, digital economy, the information-technology age in which we live." Though many Oklahomans still do not have personal access, he said, the state is endeavoring to give its public schools access through OneNet and other facilities. He said that acquiring such knowledge and skill is vital to their participation as "citizens of the world" in the information age.
Robert Clark, director of the Oklahoma Department of Public Libraries, said that implementation of the grants has already commenced, with installation and staff training due for completion by mid-2000.
"These new computer workstations will be strictly for the public's use," said Clark. "ODL has worked to help public libraries in the state establish Internet access. But many smaller libraries have only one computer, which may be restricted for staff use. This grant ensures a public access point at these libraries."
Clark said the gift will benefit all Oklahomans.
"This grant really makes a lot of difference in what we can do in providing public access, in creating some type of closing of the `digital divide' …