BTOP Projects at Work: Collaborations between Libraries and Nonprofits

In challenging economic times, organizations can persevere and even thrive if they forge partnerships that leverage resources. Two non-profit organizations in New Mexico and Washington are using the funds from the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant to establish partnerships with libraries that help them better serve their communities.

A Partnership Group

The Fast Forward New Mexico Project, funded by the BTOP grant, is one example of collaboration between non-profit organizations and a library. The New Mexico State Library is the lead on the project and the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship (GCCE) is one of its three subcontractors, along with the University of New Mexico Continuing Education Campus and the University of New Mexico Los Alamos Campus.

The mission of the GCCE, a non-profit organization in New Mexico, is to “foster an environment in which cultural entrepreneurs can successfully scale their cultural enterprises.” Two of the grant’s main purposes are to raise New Mexico’s access to and understanding of broadband, especially among geographically, economically, or culturally marginalized communities. Broadband adoption rates are lower in New Mexico than the nation, primarily because of the high costs relative to residents’ incomes.

According to Alice Loy, the GCCE’s co-founder, they consider themselves a "partnership group." Ms. Loy explained that they have "built partnerships with key institutions or organizations [that include] everyone from university leadership and higher-ed leadership in communities, to venture capital investors, to… think tank groups."

As part of the Fast Forward Project, for example, the GCCE works with 17 public libraries to host training opportunities. According to Ms. Loy, these sessions are "designed to help demystify the process of all kinds of Web 2.0 technologies and how [people] use them, what [people] use them for, and also to help people feel comfortable with being computer users." If the library staff do not have the requisite content expertise, the project recruits community members (including former trainees) to lead workshops. Because they are faced with budget cuts and diminishing resources, Ms. Loy says that participating libraries are "really excited about the program."

Making the Most of Differing Strengths

As with the Fast Forward New Mexico Project, one of the hallmarks of the EdLab Group’s Community Connect Network (CCN) is collaboration. In fact, according to its website, the overarching goal of the CCN, which was awarded a $4.1 million dollar NTIA BTOP grant in September of 2010, is to "bring together libraries, community non-profits, government, and the justice system to reach vulnerable residents in rural and urban communities in seven counties. The project links rural and urban resources together to serve unemployed, low-income, disabled, immigrants and youth by partnering with five library sites and justice organizations, and community technology centers in low income housing projects, senior centers, youth centers and community centers in the State."

Two of the CCN’s primary efforts relate to education and training. One component includes capacity-building training to help public computing centers meet the needs of vulnerable populations. A second major piece of the grant will be to encourage information distribution and sharing through an online portal. This latter task will focus on providing resources such as best practices, curriculum, evaluation tools, and tips on computer lab management, as well as content information on topics such as education, workforce preparation, online safety, legal issues, and financial literacy

The CCN’s training benefits from strong partnerships. For example, it partners with the Workforce Development Council (WDC), which provides workforce development planning and promotes coordination between education, training and employment efforts in the community as part of the implementation of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). This partnership gives CCN access to the resources the WDC uses to support job seekers, such as basic computer skills and information on how to build a resume online. The CCN also collaborates with the Northwest Justice Project (NJP), Washington’s publicly funded legal aid program. Through this partnership, the CCN will share legal resources online and train staff on how to use to assist patrons with the resources.

According to Karen Manuel, the CCN’s Executive Director, staff have learned to make the most of the different strengths of the public computing centers and the libraries. Ms. Manuel explained that libraries “have been in the business of public computing for a long time” and have had access to and support from various resources such as TechSoup and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She added that the relationship between public computing centers and libraries “is definitely a two-way street” in which the two types of organizations can learn from one another. She shared the importance of developing strategic partnerships that make use of each organization’s unique strengths and resources. She described such a partnership as a "pipeline – so as people’s skills developed and grew, they would know where to go for additional training and resources."

Pooling Resources to Maximize Services

In the face of a challenging economy, organizations must think and work strategically. Collaborations between non-profits and libraries can leverage resources and enhance services by drawing upon the individual organizations’ strengths.

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