The Eugene Public Library offers the loan of Wi-Fi hotspots


To help bridge the digital divide and put the internet in the hands of those who need it most, Eugene Public Library offers 500 free mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for payment and through community partners.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major catalyst foracquiring Wi-Fi hotspots to help those who might otherwise not be able to go to school or go to work without internet access, said Will O’Hearn, director of library services.

“The Internet has really become an essential part of life right now, so we want to have equitable and inclusive access to information for all; we want everyone to be on an equal footing, ”said O’Hearn. “It’s really important for work, school and even just for connecting with friends, family and loved ones, and the pandemic has really exacerbated that.”

Hotspots are small portable devices that provide internet access to the surrounding area and can be recharged like a cell phone. Up to 10 devices can be connected to a hotspot, which has no limit on the amount of data that can be used.

The community raised over $ 100,000 to fund the hotspots

While any library cardholder can visit a hotspot, the project is intended to help people disproportionately affected by lack of internet access, such as low-income people, homeless people, and people colored.

The idea of ​​having hotspots as a lending option was pioneered by the Eugene Public Library Foundation. The foundation first sponsored a pilot project, which started in January and is underway, to test the Wi-Fi loan service with support from Eugene Metro Rotary, and in partnership with community nonprofit organizations. First Place Family Center, White Bird Clinic and 15th Night.

Following the successful progress of the trial, the foundation partnered with the Friends of Eugene public library to raise $ 60,000 to purchase 300 hotspots. With community donations and funding from the Oregon Community Foundation’s Oregon Library Innovation Fund, the campaign raised $ 102,000, exceeding its goal and enabling the purchase of 200 additional wireless access points.

Previous coverage:Eugene Library Groups Campaign Aims to “Connect Community” with 300 Wi-Fi Access Points

With 250 mobile Wi-Fi hotspots circulating at the library, the remaining 250 hotspots will go to local social service providers and shelters that serve the homeless community and those who face barriers to accessing the internet. According toprogram announcement.

“Internet equity is urgently needed in our community,” said Eugene Public Library Foundation director Reed Davaz McGowan in the announcement. “Even before the pandemic, lack of internet access disproportionately affected low-income households, homeless people and people of color. And now the need for access is even more critical.

O’Hearn said that during the pilot project to test the loan service, he heard many stories about how hotspots are making a difference in people’s lives, allowing them to find work or go to school virtually without constantly losing the Internet connection.

“For an individual, it allowed him to go to school reliably and continuously, and (internet access) was not decreasing all the time,” he said. “It shouldn’t be too dramatic, but it changed their lives in a way by allowing them to go to school.”

Hot spots will meet multiple needs

Routing of the 250 access points to service providers is still ongoing, with partners signing agreements before receiving the access points, O’Hearn said. It will take about a month before they are delivered to vendor services, he said.

O’Hearn added that the library has already worked with the social service providers who receive the hotspots. Part of the library’s mission is to help those in need so that they can create equal access to information for everyone in the community.

It will be up to social service providers to determine how the hotspots will be used. Some, like Downtown Ambassadors, would likely give them to Staff Ambassadors so they have internet access to help the people they interact with in the city.

Shelters, such as the First Place Family Center, had previously limited them to use in the shelter, with a few exceptions. During the testing period, First Place Family had issues with people not returning hotspots, program director Hope Birrell said.

O’Hearn said that one of the benefits is that service from one access point can be transferred to another device if lost, with the cost of the service being higher than the device. The library has also budgeted to replace some access points if they are lost, he said.

“We kind of knew, ‘Hey, some people might not give them back,’” he said. “When I’ve done them in the past, what happens is when people don’t kick them back after a while, they’re like, ‘Hey, why isn’t this working anymore? “At this point, it becomes an expensive paper weight.”

Tod Schneider, executive director of Community Supported Shelters, said the agreement to receive hotspots is still being finalized and he said he looks forward to the benefits it will bring to residents and staff.

“If all goes well, it is possible to improve connectivity for our residents and staff at the secure sites,” said Schneider, allowing them to easily access resources and connect with their families.

“Everyone at the site is working to rebuild their lives, and for some people, it’s as easy as finding a long-lost relative.”

Eugène Library Services

Have access: Library cards, used to verify access points, are free to all residents of the Town of Eugene and to all students enrolled in the 4J Eugene School District and the Bethel School District. More information about the library can be found online at eugene-or.gov/library or 541-682-5450.

Borrow a hotspot: Cardholders can borrow an access point at any location in the Eugene Public Library or request a reservation for later pickup by visiting bit.ly/EugLibraryHotspot.

Louis Krauss covers the latest news for The Register-Guard. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @LouisKraussNews.

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