Oct. 15, 2020 – DENTON – Access to broadband internet and healthcare are challenges to rural Texans. And in a pandemic, those challenges are magnified. But efforts by a Texas Woman’s University graduate student are chipping away at those issues in one North Texas community.
For Dianne Connery, director of the Pottsboro Area Library, ramping up broadband is more than added enlightenment on Chaucer or Shakespeare. It’s about improving her rural community’s health.
Connery, currently pursuing a Master of Library Science degree from the TWU’s School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS), saw rapidly increasing demand for telehealth services in Pottsboro and took action.
“In rural areas, a lot of people don’t have internet access and it’s difficult to get to healthcare providers, especially with COVID,” Connery said.
What started as keeping the library open by appointment for computer users evolved into a $20,000 COVID-19 Health Information Outreach Award that Connery secured from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), part of the National Institutes of Health. The award was one of five given by the NLM this year totaling $100,000.
Now, Connery is consulting with the NLM and the University of North Texas Health Science Center to determine best practices and build a model to make telehealth more accessible to anyone who needs it.
With plans for scales, blood pressure cuffs, web cam, microphone, and a soundproof room, Connery hopes to provide a model for libraries across the country.
“This helps overcome geography and technology issues,” Connery told News 12 in Sherman. “Even when COVID is done with and we’ve moved past that, the telemedicine is here to stay, especially for rural areas. It just makes sense.”
Telehealth pairs well with Connery’s work as a universal broadband-access advocate. The Pottsboro Area Library, named a top three Best Small Library in the U.S. by Library Journal in 2017, provides three neighborhood access stations for broadband internet as well as routers available for checkout by students for homework use.
“Working in a rural library, I talk to people every day who struggle with not having access to broadband. Their stories inspired me to work to improve conditions. In particular, I saw how young people do not have the same experiences and opportunities as kids in the suburbs and urban environments,” Connery told ShapingEDU. “I want young people to be on a level playing field when they graduate from high school.”
Connery lived and raised her children in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Dallas. Seeing the disparity in resources her children had compared with those in Pottsboro, a rural North Texas town of approximately 2,000 near the Texas-Oklahoma border, prompted her to try to even the playing field. She successfully applied for a $25,000 Texas State Library and Archives Commission grant to provide internet in 40 homes in the area.
Collaborating and fundraising are nothing new to Connery.
She took over as library director in 2011 and procured funding from the City of Pottsboro in 2012. Starting at $4,000 from the city, Connery says the city’s budget for the library has increased every year since.
Her library also sponsors an esports team with a grant she was awarded. The Pottsboro Area Library recently sponsored a drive-in gaming event in which participants could drive to a public screen and compete in a Mario KartTM tournament safely from their cars.
Connery, a member of the TWU SLIS Transforming Libraries into Community Anchors in Rural Texas (TLCART) inaugural cohort and slated to graduate in December, has worked on several projects to fill the needs of the Pottsboro community.
She said pursuing her degree has helped her make connections and build comradery with peers throughout Texas. It’s a path that has given her new perspective and the drive to show Pottsboro what a library can be for the community.
“I’m passionate about the role of rural libraries. We are perfectly positioned to transform the community, and I love what I do.”
Page last updated 12:57 PM, October 15, 2020