FARMINGTON — Farmington Public Library is one of 11 libraries across the state that will soon have video conferencing services.

This is all part of a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program award of $1.36 million received by the Maine State Library. Provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, grants have been awarded throughout the country through a very competitive process, Janet McKenney, acting director of Library Development at the state library, said.

In addition to the videoconferencing services, more than 500 computers will be purchased and/or upgraded at 107 public libraries. Farmington is slated to also receive six new laptop computers, she said.

Requests for proposals from suppliers are expected out next week, with hopes of purchasing equipment by May and having it installed by June, she said.

Proposed as an opportunity to expand broadband access in rural areas where technology can help with economic development, the project includes three mobile computer labs to provide training. Part of the program’s goal is to “improve employment related services offered by libraries and make legal information and services more accessible to the public,” according to the state library’s website.

Only two libraries now have the capacity for videoconferencing. Farmington was one of the 11 libraries chosen because it’s a good, central location and has a library director in Melanie Taylor-Coombs who can manage the equipment and put it to good use, McKenney said.

Part of adding technology to libraries is providing the necessary training to help people use it, she explained. Recently an unemployed nurse with 25 years experience asked a librarian for help because she had never filled out an application online, she said. Part of it was as simple as teaching her to copy and paste.

Libraries have embraced technology by creating ways to use it, Coombs said about the positive things going forward at the library.

It provides computers for public use and many unemployed spend hours there seeking employment. Audio books can now be downloaded from the library and she is excited about the upcoming opportunity for local groups and businesses to conference with others throughout the state using a Skype-like program.

A recent tally of usage revealed more than 29,000 visitors at the Farmington Public Library during 2010, up from 27,600 in 2009, she said. Many of those visitors appeared in the summer with a phenomenal children’s area in July and August, she said.

The Maine State Library Snapshot day held in November when libraries across the state tallied visitors, services, photos and quotes during that one day revealed more than 33,000 books and movies were loaned, more than 12,000 people used computers to access the Internet, and nearly 800 people were taught computer skills.

Farmington’s contribution revealed how the staff sought ways to help a patron secure needed assistance to allow him to remain in his home as an example of how a small town library is part of the community, she said.

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