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Digital Center Gets Comcast Grant

Five Thousand Dollars To Go Toward Privately Funded Learning Facility For Teenagers

By Jesse Rifkin

August 11, 2012

The cable company Comcast on Friday announced that it has given a $5,000 grant to the Hartford Public Library's YOUmedia initiative.

The library is creating the "digital learning center for teenagers" using only private funds, said the library's CEO, Matthew K. Poland.

"Only around 30 percent of Hartford residents, or less, have regular access to the Internet," Poland said. "These residents mostly connect at the library. In such an interconnected world, providing such resources proves necessary."

YOUmedia is modeled after a similar program launched in 2009 by the Chicago Public Library, built on research showing that teens are better at building digital skills based on their interests than in an academic setting.

The Hartford library's center, when completed, will allow young adults to use computers to create and edit music, film, art, games, and graphic designs.

The center is expected to cost around $1 million to operate over its first three years, with about half of that amount raised to date by private fundraising that began in January. Construction has not yet begun, but the center is expected to open in April 2013 on the library's second floor with a seven-person staff and enough computers to handle about 50 teens at a time.

"The great fortress of knowledge in all our communities is in public libraries," said U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, who attended the announcement Friday. "That is where truth resides."

Larson is the co-creator and chairman of the congressional Digital Divide Caucus.

"Technology is vital to information and education," he said. "It seems insane to me that the United States Congress is not focused on infrastructure, which means not just roads and bridges, but also broadband."

Segarra had similar sentiments.

"We are facing a large digital divide and a large achievement gap in Hartford," Segarra said. "Our efforts to close the digital gap in the past has proven costly to the city, a cost we could not bear, which is why we particularly value this partnership with Comcast."

The company last year launched a program called Internet Essentials to help close the digital divide. Helping lead the efforts in Connecticut is Mary McLaughin, senior vice president of Comcast's Western New England Region.

"We provide low-cost Internet access for $9.95 a month and low-cost computers for $150," McLaughlin said. "We also expanded our eligibility criteria by allowing families with children on reduced-price lunches, not just free lunches. That alone brings in 300,000 more people nationally."

Poland highlighted the library's efforts to close the digital divide.

"We are the only public library in the country with a grant from [the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services]," Poland said.

"We can help immigrants with government forms completed online. Some of these people have never even seen a computer, depending on where they are coming from."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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