Last month, Seattle joined the ranks of cities such as Chicago and New York City in offering wireless hotspots for loan at their public libraries (see the nifty New York Public Library page here) . The Seattle Public Library’s HotSpot can connect up to 15 devices to 4G LTE and 3G networks, and also change external devices, their website says. The Seattle Times article, “Seattle Library Patrons Can check out Wi-Fi Hotspot Devices” states that 150 devices were funded by a $225,000 grant from Google and Google.org.
This is a pro-active and important step that public libraries are taking to bridge the digital divide by providing internet access at home and on-the-go to an underserved population. Seeing a need and finding the funding resources to fill that need is what forward-thinking libraries do, HotSpot lending being a perfect example of this. Free Wi-Fi at libraries is one of the most used resources and I have seen patrons sit outside the library after closing with their laptops to continue their work. The New York Public Library states on their website that they allow people to check out the HotSpots for 6 months, and “The program is intended to help NYPL patrons access online resources at home and to raise their digital exposure and confidence.” But patrons who lack internet access may also very well lack a device or computer in which to connect to the internet with. The Chicago libraries also have laptops that can circulate along with the HotSpot. The Seattle Public Library will be using some of the grant money they received to make available 75 laptops that will be bundled with mobile hotspot devices. These laptops will be available in July.
On May 18, The holds list for the HotSpot devices offered at the Seattle Public Library was at 230. This shows that there is an obvious demand for internet access in the community that the Seattle Public Library serves. While Seattle is a big, metropolitan city, I can see a HotSpot and laptop lending program being extremely successful in more rural libraries, too.
This is exciting stuff! Maybe your library will be loaning wi-fi hotspots in the future.