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Manatee libraries get tech boost

BRADENTON — The Manatee County Public Library system is getting a technology upgrade thanks to a $250,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a organization aimed at benefiting communities nationwide.

The funding is for added fiber optics and other technology slated to speed up Internet access for its patrons, equip the county’s Bookmobile with laptop computers and add interactive technology to the libraries’ meeting rooms.

Manatee has six public library locations, including the main branch Central Library at 1301 Barcarrotta Blvd. W., Bradenton.

“Right now we just have fiber optics at Central, but thanks to the grant we now plan to expand them to our Palmetto, Braden River and South Manatee locations,” said John Van Berkel, library services manager.

The library loans more than a million books and other materials annually.

“Sometimes the patrons have problems opening a photo or listening to music or getting some graphics because some of them eat up a lot of space, so by providing fiber optics, more people can do more things and aren’t slowed down,” Van Berkel said Thursday. “They’ll be able to handle more and have a quicker response time.”

The Rocky Bluff and Island branches, he said, don’t have fiber optic capability.

“But we are increasing the speed and capability of what they have there,” Van Berkel said.

Currently the county’s public libraries have 101 PC computers. Grant money will allow it to buy an additional 17 computers — 15 standalone computers and two laptops for the county’s Bookmobile. Five of the PCs will be installed at the Central Library, and two will be installed at each of the other branches.

“Those standalone computers will be used for those who need more than 30 minutes on a computer to fill out job or unemployment applications,” Van Berkel said.

The grant is part of a $5.5 million initiative to benefit library users in 20 communities across the nation.

“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 George Martinez, director of information systems at Knight Foundation. “Through this initiative, we hope to augment libraries’ roles as vital community centers while helping to create engaged and informed communities.”