Library Expands Popular Wi-Fi Hotspot Lending Program

More Devices to Meet the Consistent Demand

The Evanston Public Library is expanding its lending program of Wi-Fi Hotspots in January 2017 after a 2016 pilot proved very successful. Now the library is more than doubling the number of devices available to the public from 30 to 70. The Library will also increase the lending period for the Hotspots from two to four weeks in order to give patrons more time to use the devices which provide free Wi-Fi service to-go. The Library piloted the lending of Wi-Fi Hotspots in May 2016, one of the first few libraries in the country to offer this service. From the start of the pilot, Library officials say that demand always exceeded the supply. A digital literacy survey conducted by the Library in 2016 revealed that 14% of Evanston residents report that they have no Wi-Fi in their home. In addition to the expansion of devices available through the Library, EPL is also beginning a second pilot: providing devices to two local schools for use by their students.

Expanding Program with a Pilot to the Schools

The Hotspots, which allow patrons to “Borrow the Internet” and take home free Wi-Fi service through the use of a small electronic device, will now be available in three locations: 70 will be at the Main Library, with the added option for pick up at either branch; 15 will be available for student checkout at Evanston Township High School; 10 will be at Lincoln Elementary School, made available to Lincoln students and their families.

According to Karen Danczak Lyons, Library Director, the Library approached Evanston school districts 65 and 202 for interest in circulating additional Hotspots to students and their families. ETHS and Lincoln School agreed to pilot the program. Lyons said that “Lincoln Elementary School has identified children who don’t have Internet at home and the school will be reaching out to their families about this program.” She hopes that through the continued expansion of the Hotspot program, the Library will be able to bring internet access to students who don’t have it at home. During the initial pilot period, the Library analyzed data from Sprint, the service provider, determining in which areas of the city the most Hotspot usage was occurring. Highest usage was in southeast Evanston and the area around Evanston Township High School. Lyons said that EPL will continue to analyze data on usage as the program expands.

“Kudos to Evanston Public Library for expanding the use of Wi-Fi Hotspots for our students,” said Eric Witherspoon, Superintendent of ETHS District 202. “Internet access is a vital tool in the 21st century. Enhancing access for students outside of school helps close the digital gap in our community and expands the learning opportunities for today’s students.”

Lincoln School Principal Michelle Cooney said that a Lincoln teacher brought to her attention students who couldn’t access a certain math curriculum due to a “barrier of technology at home” and now “students who have a need for technology access can sign up to sign out laptops and Wi-Fi Hotspots over the weekend. We are thrilled to partner with EPL and thankful for the support and ingenuity of our staff and families.”

The Wifi Hotspots were introduced as a component of Evanston Public Library’s Digital Literacy Program piloted in 2016. The Library will continue to partner with Sprint on the Wi-Fi Hotspot project. According to Tim Longo, Director of Technical Services, Sprint is providing the Library with unlimited data plans for each device at a below market rate. The Library also received each Hotspot device free of charge from Sprint. Additionally, Sprint has provided the data on Hotspot usage within Evanston that has proven beneficial in planning the expansion of the program.

This program was made possible in part by the generous support of a $15,000 Responsive Grant from the Evanston Community Foundation. Additional philanthropic support will be needed as the Library seeks to continue to expand this program.


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