WATER VALLEY— A group of rural scholars have banded together to check out the Water Valley Public Library as a space for their online post-secondary studies.
Library Manager Lisette McCracken said she began receiving a few emails from university students as soon as COVID-19 health measures were introduced explaining that they could not get very good Internet in their homes.
Many inquired if the library had the potential to be used as study space when the fall semester began.
“One of the issues that we’re addressing with the rural students is how they are going to do their online courses,” Lisette said. “If you live west of Water Valley you just cannot get Internet— It doesn’t work.”
To make the library hub into a reality Lisette said they need to raise just under $5,000 to cover the costs of about $1,600 for renting the space from September to December and hiring a university student to work eight hours Tuesdays and Thursdays to manage the building.
Students would have access to the library, open gym, kitchen and a conference room. The rooms are large enough to accommodate 10 people with the current social distancing health measures in place.
“Our plan is to just have certain rooms designated to certain tasks,” Lisette said.
To date, they have raised $4,000. This includes a $1,000 grant from Stepping Stones and a $1,000 grant from the Cremona and Area District Recreation Board, paired with $2,000 from a book sale, bake sale and community donations.
“About 90 per cent of it is local support—I think everyone out here struggles with Internet,” Lisette said. “There’s so many supportive people— They get it. It’s a struggle.”
The library is the only place within the region on FibreNet and can guarantee a secure connection, she explained.
When COVID-19 public health measures were put in place many people in the community began working at home, Lisette said. She added that due to the poor Internet connection they had at home, the open WiFi at the Water Valley Public Library soon became an essential service in Water Valley.
“The parking lot outside the library was always full of either business people, students or there were some people who were homeschooling … Who would come download their school work for the day every morning,” Lisette said. “How long are you going to do that until you’re just frustrated.”
She said more than a dozen post-secondary students, including mature students and those working in masters programs, and a professor has reached out to use the library as a learning space during the fall semester.
To help ensure the library can be a hub for those attending online classes Lisette has teamed up with second-year University of Calgary student Ryatt Nugent and third-year Mount Royal University student Alia McCracken to fundraise.
The idea has gained momentum quickly Alia said, explaining that they began planning around the start of August.
It was a challenge getting into the routine of working online when university classes moved onto Google Meet. She said this transition was tempered by the struggle for quality Internet access.
“Sometimes the professor will be talking and nothing will be moving,” Alia said.
Nugent added at times when someone is at home and needs access to the Internet for a crucial class or work meeting no one else can use the service to ensure the connection stays open.
It can be frustrating, she said, because she will be following along for a lecture and videos will randomly jump or freeze due to the poor Internet service.
Nugent said she her worst nightmare is being in the middle of a timed exam and having the Internet cut out.
“You’re freaking out,” she exclaimed. “It’s so stressful.”
Alia said they are hopeful they will be able to get the project off the ground because she misses the socialization of university.
By working together at the library they will be able to help with each other’s homework and aid in troubleshooting if people encounter technological issues by working together.
It will be a better experience being stressed out together at the library, as opposed to alone waiting for the Internet to work, Nugent added with a laugh.
For those looking to support the program, Nugent and Alia have launched a fundraising page on Fundly that lasts until the end of September at fundly.com/supporting-rural-post-secondary-students-during-covid-19-2. For more information visit their Instagram page @wv_library_rural_scholars or Water Valley Library Rural Scholars on Facebook.