Public Libraries in Smart Cities and Communities Toolbox
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Wi-Fi Access After Hours
Digital inclusion refers to activities that provide all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged population with affordable access to digital networks and devices, as well as digital literacy training and quality technical support. Smart citizens are citizens who are digitally included and that therefore have the ability to access technology and, more important to use technology with a purpose.
Your public library is probably already playing a very important role in providing access to technology, such as public Wi-Fi access, and supporting the development of smart citizens, but there may be additional programs and services that you may want to provide to keep bridging the digital divide in your community. You may want, for example, to take the lead to offer Wi-Fi access after-hours for those who do not have connectivity at home or at work and use your facilities often to connect to the Internet.
There are several things that you can do in order to expand access to your Wi-Fi network. First, you may leave your Wi-Fi up and running after business hours, so that patrons can still access the Internet from nearby spaces, such as courtyards and parking lots.
In that case, you may want to think about several important things. First, you may want to consider strengthening wireless signals to extend the coverage so that people can access wireless from outside library buildings. Setting up additional drive-in Wi-Fi hotspot locations around the library building would also help more people to have access to the Internet and therefore to use technology to apply for jobs, complete schoolwork, communicate via email, find information, and conduct business even when the library is not open.
In addition to boosting the Wi-Fi signals in the building, you may also consider investing in mobile Wi-Fi hotspots that bring Internet access to low-income neighborhoods or rural areas. Your library may already have mobile Wi-Fi devices available for lending so that patrons can enjoy Wi-Fi access at home. Those devices are very good at benefitting one single family or one single house.
But what if your library wants to increase Wi-Fi access in the neighborhood or for a certain area? You may want to consider having vehicles that are equipped with Wi-Fi hotspots for people to connect. Those people may not be able to visit your library building and library sending vehicles to transport hotspots would largely support technology accessibility to those are not well communicated with your library before. Your library vehicles could drive to parking lots and neighborhoods where users can drive up, park, and take advantage of free Internet access from the comfort of their own cars.
If your library has limited resources, you can also consider partnering with other community organizations who already have vehicles that go around the town, such as the post office and the police station and take advantage of their vehicles to provide Wi-Fi connection to underserved communities.
Financial and technological resources may become a major challenge for your public library to provide Wi-Fi access after business hours. Therefore, partnering with other organizations in the city may be a good idea to help you find the necessary resources. You may want to collaborate with other organizations which are also interested in digital equity to help reduce those barriers.
For instance, you may want to become a member of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), which includes a list of Free & Low-Cost Internet Plans updated daily. Those plans could provide some good options that are suitable for your library. The Public Library Association (PLA) and Microsoft Corp. launched an initiative to increase access to technology during the COVID-19 crisis. Microsoft is providing funding to help public libraries in rural communities extend Wi-Fi access by installing Wi-Fi access points at or near public library branches.
General resources on Wi-Fi access offered by public library:
PLA and Microsoft Public WiFi Access Micro Grant Program: http://www.ala.org/pla/initiatives/publicwifi
NDIA—Free and Low-cost Internet Plans: https://www.digitalinclusion.org/free-low-cost-internet-plans/
Wi-Fi on Wheels: How—and Why: https://www.imls.gov/blog/2020/05/wi-fi-wheels-how-and-why-libraries-are-bringing-their-services-communities
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