Library to pilot new laptop-borrowing program

CARES Act funding also used to purchase mobile hotspots, PPE for patron use

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 27, 2020

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ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — Whether its accessing Google Classroom for school, a Zoom meeting for work or just to connect virtually with a loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic, people are spending more time online than ever before.

At the Rochester Hills Public Library, some new devices have been added in an effort to reduce the digital divide in the community.

Thanks to a Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act grant, administered through the Library of Michigan, the Rochester Hills Public Library purchased $5,000 in technology that patrons can now check out — including some new laptops and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

The Rochester Hills Public Library is one of 294 Michigan public libraries to share in $750,925 in CARES Act grants awarded via the Library of Michigan.

Karren Reish, the grant coordinator for the Library of Michigan, said the program funds one-year projects that promote digital inclusion and increase libraries’ supply of personal protective equipment.

“Public libraries have known for a long time that a lot of people in the community don’t have access to the internet. We feel slightly vindicated that the CARES Act made that a focus, but it is a significant issue,” said Reish. “There’s a lot of people with limited or no access to the internet, so applying for unemployment, trying to do a doctor’s appointment virtually, or having your child attend school virtually is really difficult for a lot of people. We’re certainly not solving that with $750,000, but somebody, in an emergency need, can now go to the library and check out a hotspot.”

Rochester Hills Public Library Director Juliane Morian said the library used a portion of its grant funding to purchase two new Dell laptops — outfitted with modern browsers and word processing programs — and has begun piloting its first laptop-borrowing program.

“This is more of a temporary form of digital inclusion, so that if their own device is down and they need to connect to a Zoom meeting, they can,” Morian said. “For privacy purposes, upon reboot, it does wipe your information, so this isn’t intended to be a long-term solution.”

Throughout the pandemic, patrons have been able to check out one of the library’s 15 mobile hotspots to temporarily access Wi-Fi at home.

“The original 15 that we had were very popular throughout all of the pandemic — they typically have a waitlist on them,” Morian said.

Using the grant funding, the library was able to add 10 more mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices into circulation for library users this month.

The hotspots, which Morian said were purchased from T-Mobile, are all password protected.

“Similar to how we require filtering of our internet and sites when you are in the library, we also filter on these Wi-Fi devices,” she explained.

The CARES Act grant also provided $500 for the main library and $300 for each of the library’s two bookmobiles to purchase personal protective equipment and/or cleaning supplies. Morina said the funding was used to purchase disposable wipes for patrons to use on high-touch surfaces while inside the building or one of the library’s bookmobiles.

For more information, visit the Rochester Hills Public Library at www.rhpl.org.

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