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Missouri library systems receive technology mini-grants to improve outdated equipment

A stack of books is to the left of the frame.
Kimberly Farmer
A recent grant from the Secretary of State's Office and Missouri State Library has allowed Missouri River Regional Library to improve outdated equipment.

JEFFERSON CITY − It's been over five years since one library in Jefferson City has received funding for upgrades.

Thanks to a $21,280 grant from the Secretary of State's Office and Missouri State Library, Missouri River Regional Library (MRRL) can now replace outdated technology in its Business Computer Center.

Natalie Newville, assistant director of marketing at MRRL, says the technology funding came at the perfect time because its proposition tax failed to pass in August.

With the tax increase, MRRL's plan was to renovate its building, upgrade elevators to make them more accessible, and add more space in the bathrooms.

"These technology upgrades weren't necessarily part of what we're planning on doing with the [tax increase], Newville said. "Now that we have these funds to replace the equipment that is needed, then maybe we can use something that was budgeted for 2024 to help with the bathrooms or to help with the elevators, that kind of stuff."

Newville says the library hopes to replace its public-facing computers in the main library and the desktops in its Business Computer Center.

In total, the state awarded over $320,000 to 28 libraries. Little Dixie Regional Libraries received $22,000, Montgomery City Public Library received $6,683 and Camden County Library District received $9,797.

"These technology grants that we gave out this year, we've really tried to focus on the infrastructure and the public-access computers that patrons of libraries use," Missouri State Librarian Robin Westphal said. "We're looking for those unique projects or things that are sort of outside the box."

Once they've used the funding, libraries are required to report back to the Missouri State Library with updates on how it has impacted the community and share trends of computer-lab usage and laptop check-outs.

Most of the libraries that applied in this round were looking to replace their computer labs and provide additional take-home laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots for those who don't have adequate Wi-Fi at home.

"We're looking at the need and at how well the library is going to be able to manage the funds and the grants," Westphal said. "Then we make a decision based on whether or not we're going to award them the full amount or just a partial amount of what they're asking for."

While the grants have been around since 2010, Westphal says there was a increase in applications during the pandemic where officials saw a lot of rural libraries wanting to expand their services and resources beyond books.

"I think libraries really pivoted during COVID on how they were going to serve their communities, and that it's not just about everyone who walks in the door and is checking books out," Westphal said.

The Missouri State Library encourages libraries to apply for the grant every fall. It offers at least six different grants to libraries.

"One of my dreams as Secretary of State has been to have our libraries work collaboratively together," Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said. "So even if you're in a town with a very small library, you're not limited to just the materials at that library."

Libraries that were awarded with funding can start spending on Nov. 15. MRRL says they anticipate patrons could start using the new equipment by January or sooner.

"I just want libraries always to be a part of education," Ashcroft said.

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