AIKEN -- Thanks to Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates, the road to the information superhighway is a little easier to navigate for many South Carolina residents.
Martin Rosales, support technician for The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, has been traveling through the South bringing the latest technology to area libraries.
"Everyone's eyes popped wide open," Mr. Rosales said. "They can't believe all the neat things computers can do."
The Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library System received a Gates Library Initiative Grant last spring from the Seattle-based foundation totaling $165,989 in hardware, providing the four-county area with 50 new Gateway workstations, nine content servers and 13 HP laser-jet printers.
Mr. Rosales said the foundation's goal is to provide every library in the nation that qualifies with computers and software by the year 2003.
"We think it's important to provide Internet access to people who may not otherwise have an opportunity to use it," he said Monday at a training session at the Edgefield County Public Library.
Along with Mr. Rosales, a trainer has been conducting two-day training sessions for library staff at the 13 area libraries that qualified for computers. By mid-September every library will have completed installation and training sessions and received, on average, four computers.
"Training is necessary for communities to fully benefit from the computers," said Vic McGraner, library systems manager for ABBE Regional Library System. "We plan to offer training sessions for the public as well."
After training ends, the foundation will provide technological support over the phone for two years.
The foundation also donated $1,800 in software for each computer, Ms. McGraner said. Most of the software is geared toward educating children and providing the latest advances in research.
Mr. Rosales said the software won't be dated because Microsoft provides links to the Internet to download monthly updates.
"The amount of software for children is amazing," Ms. McGraner said. "We're also excited because we can now offer word processing to our patrons, and many of them have been asking for it."
The Gates Center for Technology Access is one of three divisions of the nonprofit organization, which donates computers to libraries, schools and community organizations. Mr. Gates has given more than $17 million in endowments to the foundations.
Area libraries also are planning to purchase more computers at a discounted price, Ms. McGraner said.
"It's not just a one-shot deal," she said. "We're very excited about it."
Katie Throne can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.