I am thrilled to be part of the George Washington University graduate program in LGBT Health Policy and Practice, the first program of its kind in the nation. Twice a year my fellow students and I meet on campus for weeklong residencies. The rest of the time I am at my computer. I do nearly all of my research, studying and communicating online. I attend class online. I meet with my capstone mentor online. I spend hours online meticulously toiling through research databases located around the world.
But what I can’t do is go downtown and use my own library. This is not because the Berkeley Springs library is without an Internet connection, but because, like the majority of libraries in West Virginia, it does not have an adequate WIFI connection.
According to those from the state library agency who spoke with me and the staff at the Berkeley Springs library, all libraries in the state of West Virginia are on the same closed system with limited broadband; the amount of broadband available is not sufficient to serve all the libraries.
There are desktop computers available at my library but there is a time limit of one hour. In order to finish my assignments, I need hours to research, write and study online. The computers are also much slower than my laptop and my projects often require that I have several pages or programs running simultaneously so that I can access all the information I need at the moment.
Last fall, I spent several weeks working with the dedicated and friendly staff at the library to try and figure out what we could do to improve the WIFI. After calling Charleston, the library received a brand-new $600 router that was successfully installed. I stopped by later to check out the results and unfortunately there was zero improvement.
When I am able to connect to the WIFI at the library, I am usually disconnected within 3 to 5 minutes – the average time it takes to open and reply to an email. So if I even do manage to sign on, I am never able to accomplish a single task, even something as simple as opening and replying to an email.
Apparently there isn’t enough signal to begin with. Putting in a new router to pull in signal that is not available was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Libraries are so much more than just warehouse space for books. They are community centers that provide air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter and safe space year round. These three basic amenities are something that many citizens in Morgan County and throughout West Virginia do not have, but it’s available for free at the library.
I am fortunate enough to have heat in the winter and I don’t like A/C and although I no longer need a safe space to flee from the toxic home environment I grew up in, I would like to stop lugging my laptop around town paying for cups of coffee I don’t need and trying to concentrate on studying while surrounded by the chatter of conversation.
Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort in Pocahontas County was just awarded a $713,000 government grant to improve wireless service there – despite an expert team of consultants that argued against the move.
So now when tourists want to upload a picture of the big run they just finished, they’ll be able to do that, but what about graduate students who want to attend classes online and public school students who count on their local library for a reliable Internet connection? We can’t even send an email.
– Shamaine Reis grew up in Montana and now lives in Berkeley Springs