There was a time, just a few decades ago, when everyone thought the advent of the Internet would mean a decline in libraries. It may seem ironic then that this age of worldwide connectivity via the Internet is also a time when libraries have seen a surge in popularity and support.
If we look just a little deeper though, we see why libraries have been around since at least the 7th century. There are several reasons for this, but one of the biggest is that libraries are more than a place to borrow books from. Libraries are equalizers, often providing access to resources that may not be readily available to everyone. Libraries are also adaptable, which isn’t surprising considering they’ve been around for hundreds of years.
This adaptability combined with their position as community equalizers are two big reasons that libraries have seen a resurgence in recent years. Especially during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries became an important resource for people.
Libraries provide essential access to the Internet, especially for those who do not otherwise have access, whether it be temporary or full-time. From allowing outdoor access to their Wi-Fi networks, to accessing the Internet on-site, to establishing library hotspot lending programs, libraries across the United States provided an essential service to millions of people.
How Do Library Hotspot Lending Programs Work?
Just like libraries loan out books they also loan out Wi-Fi hotspot devices to their patrons. These devices can be used anywhere there is a cellular network and can be used to connect laptops, smartphones, and tablets to the Internet.
A library hotspot lending program works on a rotation basis. Many libraries allow patrons to borrow hotspots for anywhere between one to two weeks depending on availability.
How Do Library Hotspot Lending Programs Bridge the Digital Divide?
While there is no simple way to define this complex issue, in its broadest sense, the digital divide is the gap between people who have access to the Internet and Internet-enabled devices and those who don’t. There are several layers to the digital divide that include usability divide, economic divide, empowerment divide, and more.
Library hotspot lending programs are a powerful way to bridge the digital divide by providing everyone — irrespective of their economic status, gender, and age — easy access to the Internet.
Specifically, library hotspot lending programs chip away at the digital divide by:
- Enabling Lower-Income Families to Access the Internet: As the non-partisan publication Spotlight on Poverty notes, access to the Internet is both a cause and effect of poverty. The Pew Research Center reports that 44 percent of adults in households with incomes below $30,000 don’t have access to broadband.
By providing Wi-Fi hotspot lending programs, libraries around the country are slowly, but surely helping millions of Americans who cannot afford access to the Internet at home. By offering this access, libraries are helping lower-income families take advantage of the resources and convenience the Internet offers.
- Helping Bridge the Homework Gap: Millions of students face difficulty in getting online at home to complete their homework assignments. This is known as the “homework gap”. According to the Federal Communications Commission Chairperson, Jessica Rosenworcel, seven in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access, but FCC data shows that one in three households don’t have broadband at home.
This lack of access may stem from different factors such as affordability and geography. According to the FCC, 14.5 million Americans without Internet access live in rural areas, where Internet service is sketchy at best.
In these areas, library hotspot lending programs help families and students connect to the Internet.
- Empowering Individuals to Apply for Jobs: It is safe to say that when you aren’t connected to the Internet, you are also disconnected from a world of opportunities. The digital divide prevents individuals from learning about jobs, connecting with mentors, filling out online applications, and more. By utilizing the library Wi-Fi hotspot lending program, individuals from underserved communities can access resources and put themselves in a better position to compete more fairly with their peers.
- Enabling Healthcare Access for Seniors: Lack of affordability, unfamiliarity with Internet service providers, and an inability to commute long distances all combine together to put seniors at the risk of not receiving quality healthcare. By enrolling in a library Wi-Fi hotspot lending program, seniors can take advantage of telehealth services, research their health conditions, and stay in touch with their friends and family. Library hotspot lending programs are a powerful tool in helping us bridge the digital divide. The prevalence of libraries around the country combined with their ability to serve patrons from all walks of life put libraries in a unique position to help advance digital equity.
Mobile Citizen offers affordable mobile Internet devices and plan to libraries. To see if your library is eligible, please contact our experts in the Mobile Citizen Customer Service Center at 877-216-9603.