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News Release

Mecklenburg Library Initiative Will Increase Digital Access and Help Unemployed

Charlotte, NC – Oct. 2, 2009 – Charlotte and Mecklenburg County residents will benefit from expanded Internet access and help searching for jobs, thanks to a $804,100 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County

The grant will supplement additional private and public funding to create a new “Job Help Center” at the Main Library where residents can use the computers for up to three hours to research careers and jobs. Also, the funding will help address bandwidth needs throughout the library system, and replace computers at the ImaginOn, Freedom Regional and Mountain Island Libraries.

“This funding comes at an optimal time, when library use is rising due to economic conditions, and budget cuts have reduced the funds we have available to meet that need,” said Charles M. Brown, director of libraries for the 24-branch library system. “Private funders such as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation are stepping up to the plate to fill this growing community need.”

Libraries play a major role in providing technology services to many people who do not have home computers or Internet access, and who need expert help navigating the world of technology. North Carolina falls below what is known as the “digital divide,” ranking 41st in the nation in people with access to the Internet from home. The Library is the largest provider of free Internet/computer access in Mecklenburg County, responding to a community need at a time when technology is increasingly important for everything from finding a job, to applying to college, to completing homework assignments.

“Libraries are the greatest providers of free Internet – offering residents access to the critical news and information they need to make decisions about their lives,” said Susan Patterson, Charlotte program director for Knight Foundation. “Through this initiative, we hope to augment libraries’ roles as vital community centers while helping to create engaged and informed communities.”

The grant is part of a $3.1 million Knight Foundation initiative benefitting library users in 13 communities across the United States. The effort reinforces the findings of the Knight Commission on Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, which assessed how communities across the country receive news and information. The Knight commission, which issued a report today in Washington D.C., argues that lack of equal access to quality information threatens democracy in America.

In the report, available at www.knightcomm.org, the commission recommends funding public libraries as centers of digital and media training.

The Job Help Center at Main Library is repurposing space to create a 7,500 square foot area to serve a projected 22,500 people in the first year. Part of the funding from Knight Foundation will provide new computer equipment and infrastructure improvements at the Center, allowing the Library to increase customers’ computer usage time from 1 hour to 3 hours a day in the Job Help Center.

At a time when unemployment numbers are climbing and not expected to rebound anytime soon, the need for computer and Internet access to search and apply for jobs has never been higher. In a recent sample, 31% of reference requests at the system’s Main Library were related to literacy and job help. A recent user of the Library said, “I used your facilities at night to do job research and write my resume. As a result I have found a new job. I could not have done it without your services.”

The Library announced the grant at ImaginOn, a children’s facility in Uptown Charlotte. Speakers included Library Director Charles Brown, Knight Foundation Charlotte Program Director Susan Patterson, Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts and Library Board of Trustees Chair Darrel Williams.

About PLCMC
Since its founding in 1903 as a Carnegie Free Library, PLCMC has provided community service and outreach to the citizens of the Charlotte area. One of the premier libraries in the country, PLCMC has been recognized as a “Five Star” library in a national index of public library service from Library Journal and was named winner of the 2006 National Award for Library Service. The Library sponsors a variety of community-based programs, from computer and Internet workshops to the award-winning Novello Festival of Reading, a celebration of the joys of reading and learning. With 24 locations, 1.4 million volumes, 79,000 DVDs, CDs and audiobooks, and a vast selection of titles available to download from the Library’s web site, PLCMC is dedicated to its mission of expanding minds, empowering individuals and enriching the community. www.plcmc.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

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Contacts:
Cordelia Anderson, PLCMC Deputy Director of Marketing & Communications, (704) 416-0712, canderson@plcmc.org
Susan Patterson, Knight Foundation Charlotte Program Director, (704) 973-4566, patterson@knightfoundation.org


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