Technology Initiative Providing Low-cost Computers for Maine Libraries

Program offers additional environmental, economic and community benefits

Westbrook - Maine public libraries now have access to high quality, low cost computers, software and support, thanks to a recent partnership between the Maine State Library and the Belfast-based nonprofit, PCs for Maine.

Standing in front of a cluster of public computers at Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook Friday, State Librarian, Linda Lord said that in the first six months of the program, libraries from Allagash to North Berwick acquired 150 new computers at a savings of over $80,000 from what they would have otherwise paid for new equipment, phone support and extended warranties to match what was provided through the PCs for Maine library initiative.

“Libraries are a critical access point for people in their communities who need to use a computer or connect to the internet,” said Lord. “Until recently, however, the purchase of a machine was costly in terms of both the initial price and ongoing maintenance and technical support. This partnership makes it much more affordable for libraries to make investments in technology.”

Chris Martin, ITE/PCs for Maine founder, noted that the partnership was consistent with their mission to increase technology access and literacy. “There are many who cannot afford a computer – let alone high speed internet access – that need access to a computer for school work, to file a form or register their car. Libraries are perfectly positioned to provide this service in the community, and PCs for MAINE was designed to reduce the cost of computer ownership, provide user and technical support, and offer a better overall user experience.

The computers are hand-built at PCs for Maine headquarters in Belfast, Maine using a combination of donated high-end business class computers that are completed with new parts and charitable software licensing. They are complete, tested and ready to use when public libraries receive them and are designed to provide a minimum of 2 years of dependable, hassle-free use. The refurbished computers from this program are very reliable, fast computers for the lowest possible cost so libraries can focus their time and resources on their community’s library users – and save time and energy on technology troubleshooting.

“Computer and Wi-Fi access are in high demand here at Walker Memorial and these new machines have certainly filled a need in our community,” said Karen Valley, Library Director at Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook. “In addition to the traditional uses of research and access to news, patrons are using computers for social networking, job searches and online learning. Our high speed internet connection is helpful to entrepreneurs and students who may need to send large data or media files and do not have access to good bandwidth at home or the office to make the file transfer work.”

The units cost $200 each and come with software, a two year warranty, and two years of support. Going the traditional route of buying a new PC and paying for software and this level of support would cost a library approximately $736 over the same time period.

Chris Martin also commented: “This project is so potent that I will be presenting the pilots’ outcomes to our board and will recommend they take this pilot to permanent ‘program‘ status,” said Martin. “This will unlock PCs for Maine resources to further develop the support tools, system specifications and other quality measures at no cost to libraries, and to fix the $200 per unit cost for all of 2014! Kudos to all those involved who stepped out of familiarity and took a chance in hope of something better - I feel comfortable saying that it has already been a tremendous success for all!”

Aside from the obvious benefits to libraries, the project also has an impact on jobs and the environment. The technology donation program, eWaste Alternatives, (created by Chris Martin and PCs for Maine for another Maine Nonprofit named SKILLS Inc in Waterville) created 114 hours of paid employment for people with disabilities by recovering the equipment needed to build these 150 systems. PCs for MAINE then took these recovered system parts, and built ‘systems’ from them, added charitable software and performed all the quality testing to prepare them for library patron use – this sustained 112.5 hours of paid employment for their staff.

In repurposing the 150 computers in the program, versus buying new, the effort prevented the consumption of 10,950 gallons of fossil fuels and the use of 14,580 pounds of materials. Normally computers end up in scrap recycling-- but this project succeeded because IDEXX, SAPPI, Bangor Savings, Bates and Bowdoin College, Maine General Medical Centers and a host of other Northeast US businesses choose to give computers to eWaste Alternatives and PCs for Maine. They know that their materials will benefit the community – in this case through Maine public libraries who chose to purchase refurbished computers.

Janet McKenney, Director of Library Development, Maine State Library stated, “A great deal of credit goes to MSL staff who worked with PCs for Maine implementing and promoting this project and to the public libraries willing to see if these high quality refurbished computers would do the job. This is a great partnership for us and Maine public libraries!”