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Ferndale library loans out Wi-Fi hot spots as pilot program

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published February 10, 2016


FERNDALE — Almost anywhere you go now — restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores — the Internet is available.

However, at the Ferndale Area District Library, staff realized that not everyone has access to the Internet at home, and patrons are using the library’s computers for everything from searching for a job to connecting with loved ones to watching movies.

So when approached by T-Mobile to be part of the company’s Wi-Fi hot spot pilot program, Executive Director Jessica Keyser jumped at the opportunity.

Through the program, the library received five Wi-Fi hot spot devices that it is checking out to library card holders for a week at a time. Patrons can use the hot spots anywhere, including at home, around the city or on vacation.

“We know there is a large portion of our community that still doesn’t have Internet access at home and rely on the library for that access,” Keyser said. “Today, to function in society, you have to do a lot on the Internet, whether it is schoolwork, job related or accessing government services. This is an opportunity to expand beyond the walls of our building and bring this service to people’s homes.”

The hot spots are available for free to any library patrons ages 18 and older. The library is able to participate for free, Keyser said, as the pilot program seeks to gauge the interest and feasibility of the program.

The program will run through April, at which time Keyser said the library staff and board will look into the options for continuing the program.

Surveys are being included in the bags with the checked-out hot spots and ask patrons about the program, including whether they might possibly pay for a hot spot in the future.

“We have some kind of estimation of what it would cost, and we would have to explore funding opportunities,” she said. “This is not something we have written into our budget, so it will take some time to look for funding, but we want to encourage people to fill out the surveys so we can get feedback and see if this is worth pursuing long term.”

Head of Circulation Kelly Bennett said that when the hot spot is taken home, it can connect with smartphones, tablets and laptops, as well as any other Wi-Fi-enabled device. Being part of the pilot program, she said, is in line with the services they try to provide to library patrons.

“This really fits in with our mission, which is to inform and entertain,” Bennett said. “We see a lot of patrons come in to use our computers every day, and there is clearly a need for Internet access.”

Because Internet access is so readily available, Bennett said there is a general assumption that everyone has Internet at home, but that is not the case. And, as a library, they hope to close the gap of what people have and don’t have access to.

“People who don’t have Internet access are being left behind,” she said. “Every job application is filled out online now, and you need a couple of hours to do it, so you need that access to improve your life. The library is the great leveling plane where anyone who comes in has access to everything we offer. We are just trying to enrich people’s lives.”

While the hot spots are great for being able to complete necessary tasks, Keyser said they can be used for fun as well. Streaming movies at home would be a good use, she added, but she is excited about the possibility of taking them on the go.

“One of the attractive uses for me personally is to take these in the car when traveling,” Keyser said. “If you are on a road trip, you can use the hot spot and download videos and e-books and audiobooks for your travels, whether it is going up north or camping or just a road trip.”

And while Bennett said the pilot program allows patrons to have access to job postings and email, she said it also allows them to use online features of the library.

“We have a lot of great online services for at home that maybe folks are missing out on,” she said. “We have digital and audio books and databases we subscribe to, but if you don’t have Internet access, you can’t sample those.”