Earlier today, my wife Christie and I announced American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Included in today's announcement was funding for computer equipment for a library in the isolated Appalachian town of Sneedville, Tennessee. Like more than 80 percent of rural public libraries in Tennessee, that small library provides the only free public access to the Internet for a community of 6,700 people. These communities have some of the lowest rates of home Internet access and highest rates of unemployment. Today, our announcement included investments to increase the capacity of 70 small libraries to provide workforce training and increase educational opportunities for the communities they serve.
Having served as a teacher for over 20 years, my wife Christie knows firsthand the impact libraries can have in preparing young minds for their future. As first lady of Iowa, she visited over 500 rural libraries to raise awareness about the changing role of America’s libraries. When she joined me to announce these projects, she said:
Libraries have been a lifelong passion for me. Their role in the community is multi-faceted in what they offer to local residents. It is more than the bricks and mortar; it is the nucleus of rural communities – socially, culturally, and educationally. I like to think of the modern day library as the campfire of the 21st Century, where communities can get Internet access and reference tools. They serve as a meeting place and are seen as a source of pride.
Christie is right. As I have traveled, I have found libraries to be a place where senior citizens congregate, a place to send e-mails to family members, to take on-line courses, or learn about the rest of the world.
Libraries have always been an essential component in the fabric of our rural communities. They expand our educational, social, and economic opportunities. They are a place where neighbors converse (quietly of course), where diverse cultural experiences are shared, where inquiring minds are filled with knowledge, and where digital divides are bridged.
President Obama’s Recovery Act provided $53 billion to Rural America with both short-term relief and long-term success in mind. Investments in critical community facilities like libraries are just one piece of our work to create jobs and build thriving, sustainable economies in rural communities across this nation.