Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Helping the Community to Connect: Public Libraries Lending Out HotSpots

It is easy to take for granted being able to connect to the internet. Some public libraries are meeting the connection needs in the community by lending out Wi-Fi hotspots, devices that offer internet access over WLAN (wireless local area network). Sandusky Public Library, Chicago Public Library, and New York Public Library each started a program in 2014 to lend out Wi-Fi hot spots to their communities.
Wireless local area network symbol
WLAN image courtesy of Pixabay

Sandusky Library started the program in July 2014 to help meet the digital divide in their community. The program has become very popular with the community and is wait list only. The program is funded by the Sandusky Dorn Foundation through a $50,000, two-year grant. The library has also produced a Google Drive folder sharing their marketing pieces for other libraries that might be interested. (Thanks goes to Samantha Chada, Director of Communication & Technology of Sandusky Library for sharing this information). 

Chicago Public Library program, Internet to Go, launched this month consisting of 100 hotspots and devices circulated at three library locations. This program is funded by a $400,000 Knight News Challenge grant and a $175,000 Google grant. CPL states, like Sandusky, that this program is pushing to close the digital divide and help those communities "be more fluent in the digital world." 

New York Public Library, along with Queens Library and Brooklyn Public Library, started lending out 10,000 hotspots to its patrons. The program, funded by $500,000 by a coalition of non profits, and $1 million donation from Google, will allow patrons to check out a hotspot for six months to one year. The hotspots can be checked out with unlimited data  "as long as the borrower is enrolled in a library program."

While in-library public computers and wireless access are still essential services in libraries, these and similar programs are extending access outside the library, as well as hours of access. But lending hotspots to community members to help close the digital divide by providing access to the internet beyond the walls of the library. Since federal grants through the LSTA program require filtering compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), other sources of funding must be identified, and when these sources are identified the Division will share that information with the libraries in Wisconsin.

Written by:
Ryan Claringbole, Public Library Development Team