a newsletter of the Montana Library Association

[ December 2016 Vol. 34 Issue 6 ]



E-rate for Librarians

by Eric Chambers, Director of E-Rate and Services for the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE)

The Federal Schools and Libraries Universal Services Support Program, commonly known as the E-rate program is designed to help schools and libraries acquire affordable broadband and make effective and efficient use of that connectivity for students and library patrons. But what exactly is the E-rate program and how can you make use of these funds for your public library?

The E-rate program was created as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and is funded by a specific tax levied against all telecommunications providers. The tax, of course, is passed on to individuals like you and I and accounts for about $1 per phone line per month. These funds are used to reimburse schools and libraries for eligible telecommunications expenses.

All eligible expenses are one of two types called either Category One or Category Two.

Category One includes Internet access and support for wide area networks (WAN). Much like at home, most libraries have a direct connection between one of their buildings and an Internet Service Provider (ISP). In a small, stand-alone library building this might be a direct connection from the library to the ISP. In the case of some municipal libraries, Internet comes into the library by way of a hub managed by the municipality. In these cases, a WAN is created between the hub and each individual library within the system.

A WAN, in its simplest form, is a high-speed connection between two or more buildings. A WAN makes it possible to share data between buildings without having to pass through the Internet. A WAN also makes it possible for all buildings in the network to share one Internet connection rather than have and maintain a connection between each building and the ISP.

Category Two includes the hardware necessary to bring Internet access to the individual users in the library and includes routers, switches, wired and wireless access points, cabling, and so forth. A detailed discussion of each of these technologies is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that these are the technologies needed to connect a computer, tablet, phone, or other devise to the Internet.

Any discussion of eligible services ought to include a discussion of those technologies that are not eligible. Phone service, email and web hosting services, though eligible in the past, are no longer eligible. End-user equipment like computers and tablets are also not eligible.

Reimbursement for eligible technology expenses is calculated differently for each category.

Discounts for Category One and Two services are calculated based on the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) eligibility of the students in the school district in which the library resides. The relationship between NSLP eligibility rates and discount is not a one-to-one relationship and is best explained in the table below:

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Thus, if you are a rural library and your local school district has a NSLP eligibility rate of 50% your reimbursement for eligible Category One expenses would be 80%. In other words, if you spend $100 a month on Internet Access you would receive $80 of that back each month! Currently there is no cap on the amount of money you can received back for eligible expenses. If you spend $1,000 a month you would get back $800 a month, if you spent $10,000 a month you would get back $8,000 a month, and so on. There is a cap, however, on Category Two expenses.

Each library receives a five-year “budget” for Category Two expenses. Budgets are calculated at either $5.00 or $2.30 a square foot for each library building. Libraries with an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) code of 11, 12, or 21 receive the higher amount per square foot while all other libraries receive the lower amount. A practical example follows:

The Smith Library System includes three libraries: a 2,000-square foot main branch and two 500-square foot branch libraries for a total square footage of 3,000-square feet, thus as an IMLS 21 library system their budget is $15,000 ($5 per square foot). Their local school district has a NSLP eligibility rate of 70% so the libraries discount for Category Two purchases is 80%. Putting it all together, if the library spent $15,000 on eligible hardware they would be reimbursed for 80% of that, or $12,000. Note that the $15,000 is a ‘cap’ so in this scenario $12,000 is the most the library would receive back even if they spent $30,000 instead of $15,000.

How do you apply for E-rate? The E-rate application process is a multi-step process that begins each summer or fall with the posting of the FCC Form 470 and possibly a Request for Proposal (RFP). This initial form lets service providers know what kinds of services you are interested in. This is followed by a FCC Form 471 which is a specific request for services and identifies the service provider you have selected through a competitive bidding process. Next, the Universal Services Administration Company (USAC) the organization that administers the E-rate program on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reviews your application, may ask questions, and eventually issues a Funding Commitment Decision Letter either approving or denying your request. The last step is to request your reimbursement by either seeking reimbursement after you have paid your bill in full or asking the service provider to bill you only for the undiscounted portion. The process, of course, is more complicated than the broad stokes painted here and will be the topic of a subsequent article.

The most often question for small libraries is: “Is it worth it?” The answer is as individual as the library itself. It can be a complicated process with a steep and often unforgiving learning curve but once the process is mastered can be a significant source or revenue for libraries.

Eric Chambers is the Director of E-rate and Services for the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) and has been helping schools and libraries successfully apply for E-rate for over 12 years. Eric may be reached at

Gratitude for MLA Grant and Budding Librarian Love for Open Data

by Jim Kammerer, Montana State Library

First, let me express my deep gratitude to the MLA board and MLA Professional Development Committee to be one of the 2016 MLA grant recipients. Your financial support was a big help in my attending TransparencyCamp, a.k.a. TCamp, October 14-15, 2016 at the Cleveland Public Library and hosted by the Sunlight Foundation. TCamp is an annual “unconference” of technologists, activists, journalists, non-profit leaders, civic advocates, academics, etc. and a small sprinkling of librarians who are passionate about the value of open data to solve community problems, improve transparency, accountability, and efficiency in government.

In brief, “open data” in the context of government refers to electronically stored information that is complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine readable, non-discriminatory, and license free. Past TCamp meetings focused on unlocking federal level information. This year attendees zeroed in on unleashing the potential of state, municipal, county, and special district data. TCamp attendees shared their ideas, struggles, and successes with projects addressing community health issues, expensive school bonds, recycling, pedestrian safety, declining property values, prisoner recidivism, close-door budget meetings, etc., etc.

Aren’t these same topics also of interest to our patrons here in Montana? I know our public libraries already host many regular meetings of concerned citizens. Our Montana libraries are already partial repositories of government information, e.g. environmental assessments, school board minutes, restaurant inspection information, road construction updates, property maps, tourism statistics, municipal revenue projections, legal notices, urban wildlife surveys, abandon building data, etc. Imagine the positive social change when we librarians take the next step together with patrons, community leaders, business owners, elected officials, etc. and commit ourselves to acquiring and making this public data truly open and accessible.

The more eyes that can simultaneously look at, analyze, and dissect open public data using software tools, the greater likelihood of developing timely, mutually agreeable solutions to local problems. Entrepreneurs love open data as well because it identifies business opportunities. Open data is also a boon for elected officials because it can polish their image, increase trust with their constituents, foster civic engagement, and economic development.

Take a moment at your earliest convenience, to learn more how to connect stakeholders in your community with local data sets held by your city, county, and special districts. For more ideas, read this article for another librarian perspective on open data.

Congratulations, Montana libraries & librarians!

by Caroline Campbell and Kendra Mullison, co-editors of the FOCUS

We'd like to offer kudos to following MLA Members…

Wendy Campbell (Darby Public Library) for winning the Robert B. Downs intellectual freedom award from the University of Illinois, School of Information Sciences!

And congratulations to the following for completing the Montana State Library Certification Program!

To receive the Library Certification participants earned more than 60 continuing education credits in a four-year period.

  • Denise Ard (North Valley Public Library - Stevensville)
  • Richard Ball (Lincoln County Public Libraries - Libby)
  • Debbie Davis (Harlowton Public Library)
  • Stephen Haddad (Missoula Public Library)
  • Donna Howe (Big Horn County Public Library - Hardin)
  • Connie Leistiko (Imagine IF Libraries - Kalispell)
  • Mary Perrier (Billings Public Library)
  • Starla Rice (Preston Hot Springs Town-County Library)
  • Debbie Wellman (Chouteau County Library- Fort Benton)
  • Gavin Woltjer (Billings Public Library)

We'd also like to celebrate the great gains made by Montana libraries at the polls this election. Congratulations, libraries!

See image below.

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(Image courtesy of North Lake County Public Library District)


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UNT Pearl Website

by Dr. Yunfei Du, Principal Investigator for the PEARL Project

The University of North Texas developed a website with free resources for rural and small public libraries as part of its Rural Library Initiative project entitled PEARL (Promoting & Enhancing the Advancement of Rural Libraries). The website address is:

There are over one hundred community outreach plans written by small and rural libraries. Each community outreach plan has a detailed action grid with step-by-step key tasks one needs to do to plan and implement the program. It includes how much time, money, materials, and personnel are needed for each task.

The website has a keyword index of the community outreach plan programs. For example, if one is interested in providing computer skill programs for senior citizens, one can check the index to see which libraries did that type of outreach program.

In addition, a series of four free webinars on topics of interest to public libraries was developed. Information about each can be found on the website. Webinars will be archived and available for anyone to view after the webinar is held.

The webinar titles are:

  • Marketing and Branding
  • Cultural Diversity and Inclusion
  • Intellectual Property
  • Communication

Each webinar has a legal issues component on the topic being discussed.

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From the Editorial Desk

Hello Dear Readers,

The year-end issue of FOCUS offers us a chance to reflect upon all that 2016 has brought to our library doorsteps. Based on the items we received as newsletter editors I know it was a jam-packed year for Montana libraries. As we pieced together this issue I pondered about my own favorite library moments.

Something exciting takes place daily, sometime hourly at Missoula Public Library where I work (mainly) in the cataloging department. There is a special energy I can feel when I take time to witness my co-workers orchestrate fabulous events, participate in parades, enrapture kids during storytime week after week, build electronics in our MakerSpace, dazzle our patrons with reference & reader’s advisory magic, promote a big campaign… phew, I could go on and on! I also have my own pet-projects that bring me amusement such as the library’s annual ToileTree drive where patrons are invited to decorate a tree with travel-size personal hygiene items that are donated to a local shelter. With all that transpires at MPL, coming up with a singular favorite memory required me to dig deep.

My favorite library moment is of a very personal nature. My father suffered a neck injury in 2014 that left him paralyzed and put life for my entire family on hold as we adapted to the situation and became care-givers. This was an intensely stressful & painful time for everyone involved that finally came to end this spring when my father passed away. I cannot describe to you the gratitude I have for my co-workers, my library family, who kindly offered encouragement and even donated sick-leave throughout this ordeal so that I didn’t have to miss a paycheck while I was at the hospital or making burial arrangements. The generosity I experienced from my colleagues is my favorite memory.

Libraries have never been about buildings or books; they have always been about people. I usually take that people part to mean our patrons, but librarians are people too! This year I really came to appreciate my library people at home and across Montana. I've enjoyed connecting with you through the newsletter and I hope we all can make some happy library memories in 2017!

-Sincerely, Caroline

Montana Library FOCUS

[ISSN 1076-352X]

The FOCUS is an official publication of the Montana Library Association (MLA), and is published in collaboration with the members which it serves. You can look for new issues six times a year: in February, April, June, August, October, and December. With an online readership of over 500, the newsletter works to reflect, inspire, and give voice to the vibrant communities that exist in and around Montana’s libraries.

The FOCUS welcomes your input! To submit feedback, articles, reviews, inquiries, and ideas—or to place an ad or provide sponsorship—please contact the editorial staff directly:

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