Last week, Microsoft announced a partnership with the Hawaii State Public Library System to make its Digital Literacy and Microsoft IT Academy programs available to any and all of the state’s library patrons. Ultimately, this program is expected to reach almost a million people all over the Hawaiian archipelago.
What makes this really interesting is that access will not be limited to in-library computers only (as I had initially guessed might be the case). Here’s a quote from the press release that explains a little about what’s up:
The launch of the Microsoft IT Academy marks the first time the subscription-based program will be made available to Hawaii’s library users through in-library and remote access via Windows Internet Explorer. In Hawaii, hundreds of thousands of library cardholders will have free, unlimited access to more than 350 Microsoft courses, ranging from basic computer skills to advanced network architecture and design. The Microsoft IT Academy will provide many of the vocational and adult-education resources that have been reduced in Hawaii as a result of budget cuts.
This is very interesting because it indicates that the Hawaiian State Public Library System will also be setting up some kind of remote access, with accompanying accounts and access controls, so that library patrons can use an Internet Explorer-based Web browser session to take classes, access labs, and work their way through an enormous volume of training and certification preparation materials.
Could this be a new (and extremely valuable) mission for our public libraries, in an age when the relevancy of old-fashioned paper books is being questioned or discounted at nearly every turn? You bet! As a devoted library patron myself (and a weekly volunteer at my son’s elementary school library as well) I have to see this as a great move for both Microsoft (which gets to reach a much broader audience with its materials) and the library systems (which extend their reach into skills development, job preparation, and improved community outreach). Talk about a true win-win situation: I’d like to see this kind of deal implemented at the county level all across the United States. Power to the people–at least, those people with library cards!!! Now, please, let the supporting governments at the state and local levels also boost library funding to let them execute this mission properly.