You will soon be able to borrow Wi-Fi hot spots from the public library

It's part of an attempt to bridge the digital divide

Topics: library, WiFi, Internet, public library, digital divide, ,

You will soon be able to borrow Wi-Fi hot spots from the public library (Credit: Shutterstock via Alternet)

Public libraries will soon be lending out more than just reading material. Along with troves of books, movies and periodicals, access to computers — and the occasional 3-D printer — the New York Public Library and Chicago Public library will soon be renting out Wi-Fi hot spots.

The programs were made possible by grants from the Knight Foundation. The goal is to bridge the digital divide and provide Internet to households that don’t have access to broadband; in New York City, 27 percent of households don’t have Internet capabilities. And according to Staten Island Live: “a survey conducted by the NYPL found that 55 percent of patrons who use Internet services and programs in NYPL branches do not have broadband access at home.”

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At public libraries folks are limited to 40 minutes of time, on a first-come-first-served basis, according to the foundation. This program would allow families without access to broadband to borrow a Wi-Fi hot spot for an entire year.

In Chicago, the program will be tested in six different public libraries, and will lend Wi-Fi hot spots for three weeks at a time. They’ll also provide digital lessons for those who check out devices. The Chicago Public Library is already the largest provider of free Internet in the city.

The two public library systems will receive their grants this summer. New York and Chicago’s grants are just two out of 19 winners of the Knight New Challenge Grant, according to Staten Island Live.

Internet access and digitally literacy are vitally important in today’s society from job applications, to paying bills to accessing resources, news and information. As NYPL president Tony Marx said, “It is unacceptable that so many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers would be left behind.”

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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