The Knight Foundation announced Tuesday that it will invest $500,000 in new computers and other technology at Washington Memorial Library in Macon, making it easier for residents to do research or get computer training.
“For a community to be strong, folks have to have access to information,” said Beverly Blake, program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The grant aims to turn the “very aging” library into a 21st century community gathering place, Blake and library director Thomas Jones said.
The money from the foundation will buy 85 laptop and desktop computers to double the current access there. The existing 42 aging computers could be put in other library branches. Expanded wireless Internet access could let library patrons use laptop computers anywhere in the building, in the parking lot or even across the street in Washington Park, Jones said.
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The move complements pending renovation work by Bibb County. Commissioners are putting about $500,000 into the building, including carpet, paint and more efficient lighting.
The library will have to be closed for two to four weeks to accommodate the construction, Jones said.
No timeline has been established, but Jones said he thinks it will be in the next month or two for the renovations, and patrons will be given warning and branch libraries will remain open to help users of Washington Memorial. But it was the Knight Foundation money that took the spotlight Tuesday in a presentation with the county commissioners.
“Santa Claus came early to Bibb County,” Commission Chairman Sam Hart quipped.
The current computers are already getting about 60,000 hours of use each year, and Jones expects that to double next year. The Knight Foundation equipment likely will be installed by the end of spring, he said.
Patrons will be able to check out the laptops for use within the building, so they don’t have to be tied down to a particular desk or a work station.
And the Knight Foundation money also is aimed at helping the neediest patrons get on their feet. People need computers and computer skills to write résumés, apply to online job postings or even check welfare records online.
Computer training programs may include computer fundamentals, Microsoft Office applications, general Internet, social networking and lessons on the library catalog.
Some of the biggest changes will be in the children’s area, where officials said new carpet is desperately needed. At least 10 computers will be placed there, as well as comfortable places to read.
The library and the Knight Foundation have been working on the proposal for seven months.
The foundation gives back to communities where the Knight brothers had newspapers. The Telegraph, once part of the Knight-Ridder chain, was acquired in 2006 by The McClatchy Co.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.