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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Renews Focus On U.S. Libraries

Grants aim to increase access to upgraded computers and broadband Internet in low-income communities through the nation's public libraries
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched a five-year commitment to help U.S. public libraries serving low-income communities maintain and improve computer and Internet services.

The foundation, started by Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates, has pledged to help struggling libraries that have fallen behind due to a lack of public money for computers, broadband and other advanced technologies.

"We want to make sure every library can remain a viable choice for high-quality computer and Internet services for its community," Allan Golston, president of the foundation's U.S. program, said in a statement announcing the effort.

Nearly every U.S. library offers computer and Internet services, which are used by 14 million people to further their education and find employment, health and government information, according to the foundation, which has worked with U.S. libraries for 10 years. Nearly 40 percent of Americans still lack Internet access at home.

By providing grants, the foundation is looking to increase the percentage of libraries that regularly upgrade their computers. The foundation also plans to offer funding to libraries that need high-speed Internet connectivity. Today, 40 percent of libraries can't afford computer upgrades, and 37 percent need to upgrade to broadband.

To date, the foundation has spent $325 million to support access to computers and the Internet in public libraries.