Through the combined efforts of Library management, front-line staff, and community partners, the Kansas City Public Library has become one of the first library systems in the world to qualify for Google Fiber, the revolutionary new fiber-optic network that Google will soon debut in Kansas City.
The first Kansas City Public Library locations to receive Google Fiber will be the Central Library (14 W. 10th St.) and Plaza Branch (4801 Main St.), beginning in summer 2013. Six additional branches - I.H. Ruiz (2017 West Pennway St.), L.H. Bluford (3050 Prospect Ave.), North-East (6000 Wilson Rd.), Southeast (6242 Swope Pkwy.), Waldo (201 E. 75th St.), and Westport (118 Westport Rd.) - will be connected in fall 2013.
In the spring of 2011, Google first chose Kansas City, Kansas, and later Kansas City, Missouri, from a list of 1,100 communities competing to be the test market for the search giant's experimental fiber-optic network. Boasting speeds 100 times faster than regular broadband, Google Fiber presents the next level of Internet technology in America.
Soon after Google announced it would be coming to the Kansas City area, a deal was reached with the two cities for Google to provide free 1GB Fiber service to 300 libraries, schools, and other public buildings in the area. Though Google revealed very little information about how Fiber would be deployed in the area -- such as what it would cost or who would receive it first -- the Kansas City Public Library nonetheless saw an opportunity to provide light-speed access to our patrons in the urban core and surrounding communities.
Keeping in mind its mission of providing "a doorway to knowledge for all people in the community," the Library positioned itself at the center of the city's dialogue about this exciting new technology.
Phase One: A Center of Dialogue
First, the Library partnered with the Social Media Club of Kansas City (SMCKC) to host the community-wide ideation session Building the Gigabit City: Brainstorming a Google Fiber Roadmap. On October 3, 2011, more than 80 thought leaders from local business, tech, and education circles gathered at the Central Library to formulate ideas for how the gigabit power of Fiber could boost K-12 schools, health care, the urban core, suburban living, community activities, and public libraries. That evening, another 162 people listened to a summation of the daytime session's analyses and initial conclusions.
A month later, the Library partnered again with SMCKC to host Gigabit City: 1,001 Uses for Google Fiber in KC at the Central Library. This in-depth look at the results of October's brainstorming session featured presentations by civic stakeholders including KCSourceLink, the Mayors' Bistate Innovation Team, and the Kauffman Foundation. Local media outlets covered the event, which drew a crowd of 130.
In the coming months, the Library continued its SMCKC partnership to support the Give Us a Gig! civic engagement initiative, which aimed to bring Google Fiber discussion into neighborhoods. On January 18, 2012, the Library hosted the entrepreneur-focused Gigabit Challenge: A Global Business Plan Competition, a day-long startup contest held in the Truman Forum auditorium at the Plaza Branch that brought 250 attendees to hear a series of proposals for using Google Fiber to launch businesses in every realm from entertainment, to health care, to cloud computing and social media.
Meanwhile, the Library continued internal discussions of ways Google Fiber could both enhance our existing electronic offerings as well as provide a platform for building new resources to extend our mission further into the digital realm.
On June 22, 2012, as Google prepared to make its announcement, the Central Library hosted a Digital Inclusion Forum that brought together community leaders (including Library Director Crosby Kemper III), outside consultants, and Google representatives for a discussion of high-speed broadband and the digital divide, with a focus on ways that public libraries and schools serve as access points in underserved communities.
Phase Two: The Rally for Fiber
After more than a year of build-up, on July 26, 2012, Google Fiber finally announced its consumer product offering and roll-out plans, with prices ranging from a free monthly service after an initial $300 construction fee to an internet/television bundle for $120 per month.
For the ensuing "rally" period, Google divided Kansas City into 202 "fiberhoods" that would have until September 9, 2012, to reach a minimum number of pre-registrations in order to qualify for Fiber service. People were instructed to pre-register by going online and using a credit card to pay a $10 fee.
Google initially said Fiberhoods that did not meet the minimum number of pre-registrations would not be eligible for service in the future, and that would also apply to - all public buildings, such as schools and libraries - within those fiberhoods' boundaries. (Eight of the Library's 10 locations were inside the rally period; the two remaining suburban locations will become eligible for Fiber if Google chooses to extend its rollout eastward into the metro.) Plans for a second round of pre-registrations were later announced.
For the Library, this meant locations inside the rally zone would not receive the free connection unless people in the surrounding neighborhoods saw the value in pre-registering for Fiber at home. This presented numerous challenges.
First, though pre-registering did not commit would-be customers to becoming a paying subscriber, many in the community raised questions about whether having faster Internet at home would be worth the investment. Additionally, many customers in low-income, unconnected areas of town had neither computers at home nor credit/debit cards to use for online payments.
As the news media drew attention to the dividing line that was appearing between Kansas City fiberhoods that qualified quickly and those that lagged behind, the Library took decisive steps to ensure that all Library locations would qualify for Fiber by the September 9 deadline.
Targeting the Library branches in Fiberhoods that were farthest from their goals, the Library collected a generous donation of $1,030 from the Friends of the Kansas City Public Library - a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the Library through outreach and advocacy efforts - to pay the pre-registration fees needed to get Google Fiber to the L.H. Bluford and Southeast branches.
"These branches are vital access points in the communities they serve, and we weren't going to let them miss the chance at having Google Fiber," says Joel Jones, director of Branch and Outreach Services.
In the final weeks of the rally, Library staff systemwide collaborated with community groups and neighborhood activists in educating the community about the benefits of having free Google Fiber access at their neighborhood libraries and schools, and by September 7 - just two days before the deadline - our eight eligible branches had met their goals.
Now the rally period has ended, and though the Library will be getting Google Fiber, many communities we serve did not meet their pre-registration goals. This means that the Kansas City Public Library's value as an access point in the city's urban core will only increase.
As the Library prepares to receive the Fiber connection in the coming year, the Library will continue to work internally and with community partners to bridge the digital divide in Kansas City, to develop services that take full advantage of the enhanced bandwidth, and to increase our reach and relevance - both in the local community and worldwide.