May 20, 2015
By Jill Boldenow, Community and Digital Services Director, Saint Paul Public Library
The Saint Paul Public Library knows that many residents depend upon visiting a library to access free Wi-Fi. When the library is not open, the need for internet access persists. Twenty-two percent of Saint Paul households do not have internet service at home. A new concern about after-hours digital access was raised this year when Saint Paul Public Schools provided iPads (without an Internet plan) to many high school students. The library recognized an opportunity to assist students and customers to access the benefits of home internet service.
Thanks to a Knight Green Line Challenge Grant, Saint Paul Public Library launched "Borrow the Internet" in April. The program offers library loans of 130 Wi-Fi hotspot devices, which provide free, high-speed Internet service. The library is lending hotspots to customers of Rondo and Merriam Park Libraries and students at public schools near the Green Line.
Within minutes of sending out the program announcement, the library received a call from an excited customer, who said, “I’m applying for jobs, and I can’t get everything done when the library is open. This will really help. How can I get one?”
The hotspots at Rondo and Merriam Park Libraries were all quickly checked out for loan periods of three weeks. As soon as a hotspot is returned, another customer is waiting to borrow the Internet.
The library has also had an enthusiastic response from school partners at Central High School and AGAPE, a school for teens who are pregnant and/or parenting. While getting students’ hotspots checked out with long-term loans, we have provided new library cards for several students that will provide access to additional library services.
“Borrow the Internet” removes barriers so individuals can complete online job applications, connect via e-mail, access online homework help, read e-books, use free online learning platforms, and more.
As Mayor Chris Coleman said, “Accessing information and connecting online is a basic need in today's world. The new opportunity to 'Borrow the Internet' and take it home means more access for more people in our city."
The library is grateful for the Green Line Challenge grant, which enables us to remove barriers to vital digital access for Green Line residents and students.