Investigators at Simmons University led by Dr. Colin Rhinesmith along with partners New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) and Internet2 have requested $568,672 for the 24-month research project, “Measuring Library Broadband Networks for the National Digital Platform.” The project will examine how public libraries can utilize broadband measurement tools and training materials to develop a better understanding of the relationship between library network infrastructure and digital services. The project team will draw upon their expertise in digital equity research, broadband measurement, and network management to investigate how advanced broadband measurement capabilities can inform the capacity of the nation’s public libraries to support the online software applications and social and technical infrastructure needed to promote the National Digital Platform (NDP) in U.S. public libraries.

The project team will collaborate with a research panel of 10-15 public librarians and network administrators from not-for-profit Research and Education (R&E) Network partners in rural, suburban, and urban communities across the U.S. over the two-year grant period to gather quantitative and qualitative data using participatory design approaches. The data will be used by the library community to: (1) understand broadband speeds and quality of service that public libraries receive; (2) assess how well the broadband service and infrastructure are supporting their communities’ digital needs; (3) understand broadband network usage and capacity, along with additional data that would be useful to public libraries in providing their communities with online software applications and social and technical infrastructure; and (4) increase their knowledge of networked services and connectivity needs.

Findings from the research will be used to create the project’s three deliverables: an open-source and replicable broadband measurement platform; a broadband measurement platform training manual for public librarians; and a final report on the project. The team will deploy the measurement platform and training manual to scale the project with 50-60 public libraries in collaboration with Internet2 and their state and regional Research and Education Network partners across the U.S. OTI will help develop the measurement platform, device management, and data visualization tools with the research panel, and Internet2 will provide assistance with the training manual, which will build on the technical broadband assessment toolkit developed as part of their current IMLS-funded “Toward Gigabit Libraries” project. The team will work together to deliver the final report. The project will have the capability to fundamentally change how broadband is measured in public libraries of various sizes across the nation. The research should appeal to academics, practitioners, and policymakers interested in responding to the challenges of developing a more integrated, equitable, and dynamic set of interconnected infrastructures for delivering digital library services.