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Supercomputer authority members visit APL

Attending the October 16 meet-and-greet were, from left, Sen. Greg Albritton, Cory Hill, Eunice Johnson, Shawn Lassiter, Hope Lassiter, Walter Overby, Debra Wallace and Rep. Alan Baker.

News Staff Writer

Not many everyday people know what the Alabama Supercomputer Authority is, or what it does. But to librarians across the state, the organization is well known and of vast importance.
ASA is also important to those who use the computers in the state’s media centers, although very few realize it.
Hope Lassiter, director of Atmore Public Library, explained that the state-funded corporation, which was founded in 1989, has helped provide high-speed internet services in areas that desperately needed it.
“The impact ASA has had on this library is huge,” she said during an October 16 meet-and-greet at the local library that was attended by three ASA officials, two state legislators and two newly elected city council members. “The supercomputer authority provides high-speed internet to all public libraries in the state.”
The APL director said many people feel that libraries have outlived their usefulness, but that isn’t the case in Atmore.
“A lot of people think libraries are a thing of the past, but I strongly disagree,” she said. “In the Atmore area, 40 percent of the people are without computers, and 50 percent are without internet, so they rely on us. I don’t know where else they would go. ASA monitors our internet, provides faster service than normal and helps with a lot of technical issues and in other areas.”
Lassiter pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic had created a new need for the computer services offered at APL.
“With COVID, a lot of people are still unemployed,” she said. “In the last two weeks, actually 12 days since we were closed two days, we have assisted 350 people on the computer, with job applications, FEMA registration, that kind of thing. We’ve also sent more than 700 faxes. That’s a lot. Without ASA, we probably wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Walter Overby, the organization’s CEO for the past 14 months, said Alabama Supercomputer Authority has been especially helpful to universities statewide that are conducting medical research, and that the statewide network allows ASA to monitor the computer use at schools, colleges, universities and libraries. And spot problems that might erupt.
“We monitor the network, monitor the firewall, to see if we can determine if there has been a lot of suspicious activity,” he said. “Ransomware attacks can be a nightmare, so we look for those. It’s a niche that we have, and I feel like we do it very well. I’m really excited about the future of ASA.”
Debra Wallace, ASA’s business development director who will take over as CEO in January, said the organization’s presence has grown tremendously since 2019, when only 50 libraries were part of the network.
“We now have 142 school systems and 177 libraries,” she said.
Overby and Wallace were joined by ASA Education and Outreach Director Cary Hill on the Atmore leg of their statewide tour. Also attending the local session were State Rep. Alan Baker and State Sen. Greg Albritton, along with Eunice Johnson and Shawn Lassiter, both of whom will become city council members on November 2.
“All we’re doing is appropriating, trying to direct funds to the most appropriate places where they will do the most good; this is one of them,” Albritton said to the ASA trio. “You’re doing a great job. We appreciate your vision. We’re going to have to be creative and we’re going to have to put more resources into it.”
Baker also heaped praise on the three.
“This is one of those things that go under the radar,” he said. “It provides that outlet of support for people in a very needed way. You provide some insight into the technological support provided to our libraries, and that’s very huge.”