If a public library even has a space for computers at all, he said, the labs tend to just be in hastily converted rooms or basements. He described the environments as “oppressive” and questioned how students could learn in them.
Even large public library systems like the one in D.C. can have trouble staying technologically up to date.
“We had Windows 95 until last year,” Reyes-Gavilan said with a laugh, though it wasn’t entirely clear if he was joking. “If you’re on a schedule where you only refresh every 20 to 30 years, that’s an issue.”
Initiatives like ConnectED and the eRate program may help, the panelists said, but libraries simply need more funding to make a difference. While education, and education technology, has been a large part of the Obama administration’s agenda, school libraries have not received the same sort of attention.
The president’s proposed 2015 budget contained no funding for libraries and cut $2 million from the Library Services and Technology Act.
Clarence Anthony, executive director of the National League of Cities, said libraries and schools must do more to remind the public and the government that libraries are a key part in making sure the United States can remain globally competitive.
“Digital literacy is no longer a choice,” Anthony said. “This is a quality of life issue.”