Texas Library Association (2020), Rural Library Hotspot Lending: The Tocker Hotspot Program. Houston, TX
International Communication Association (2020).
National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals(NACDEP) Annual Conference; Big Sky, Montana; June 11-14, 2017. http://www.nacdep.net/2017-cds-nacdep-conference “Rural Library Hotspot Lending Programs: Addressing the Challenges of Connectivity for Rural Communities” Presented by Dr. Brian Whitacre. Rural Library Hotspot Lending Programs NACDEP
Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide (PPDD) 2017; San Diego, CA; May 24-26, 2017. “At the Edges of the National Digital Platform: Rural Library Hotspot Lending Programs,” Presented by Richelle Crotty, Jacob Manlove, Alexis Schrubbe.
Oklahoma Library Association Annual Conference; Norman, OK; April 24-26, 2017. http://www.oklibs.org/page/AnnualConference “Hotspot Lending for Rural Oklahoma Libraries” Presented by Dr. Brian Whitacre, Click HERE for presentation materials.
NTIA Broadband USA Webinar, “Strategies for Broadband Adoption and Digital Inclusion in Rural Communities” Presented by Dr. Brian Whitacre, https://www2.ntia.doc.gov/WEBINARS, Click HERE for presentation materials.
Library and Information Technology Association Conference (LITA), Denver, November 9-12, 2017.
Texas Library Association Conference (TLA) “Starting a Hotspot Lending Program”, Dallas, April 3-6, 2018.
Kansas Library Association Conference (KLA). Poster. Wichita,
California Research and Education Network Conference (CENIC)
Texas State Library and Archive Commission; September 2017 Webinar, “Lending Hotspots in Urban and Rural Communities” presented by Dr. Sharon Strover. See full Webinar at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2skeWDX8V_Q
Highlights from a new Lending Initiative in Oklahoma
Dr. Brian Whitacre and his doctoral student, Jacob Manlove, recently undertook a small pilot project to extend hotspot lending to Oklahoma rural libraries. Utilizing Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service funds, Brian and Jacob recruited four libraries in rural Oklahoma to initiate programs modeled after the Kansas State Library Rural Hotspot lending program.
The communities range in population from 1,900 to 7,500, and three have poverty levels well above the state average of 16.7%. Each community has a significant portion of the population who lack home broadband, and each library has a strong base of local support. The sites were chosen for two primary reasons: (1) a high proportion of people who remain unconnected, and (2) the libraries were in the service area of the Mobile Beacon network provider (Sprint). Devices were purchased through PCs for People, who partner with Mobile Beacon to provide low-cost Internet service to low-income families and non-profits. Working through. Working through PCs for People allowed the hotspots – with a full year of unlimited data – to be purchased at a significantly reduced price ($75 / device + $10 / month for data). The entire program (16 devices + one year of unlimited data for each) was funded for approximately $3,000.
The hotspot programs were easy to package (most used old audio book cases) and incorporate into library catalogues. Librarians generally refer to these devices as a low stress item for circulation because they’re incredibly user-friendly. Each library was allowed to set their own policy regarding the devices: three loaned them out for one week at a time, one chose to do a two-week loan period. The policies ultimately chosen varied somewhat; but in general patrons had to be in good standing with the library, sign a loan agreement explaining they understood the costs of replacing the device if lost or stolen, and pay a late fee of between $1 -$2 a day. Marketing was done via a combination of in-library signage, social media / email, and newspaper articles / community meetings.
The program got up and running in June 2017 and has been a smashing success so far. Over 200 loans occurred between June and September 2017, with each library averaging around 12 loans per month. The wait list ranges from five people to 20 people, with many patrons getting put back on the wait list as soon as they turn the device in. The one-page surveys required from each user show that the devices are extremely popular, with over 90% ranking their satisfaction as either a “9” or “10” (out of a scale from one to ten). They also provide information about who is using the device (36% have incomes less than $25,000); how they are using them (63% use smartphones or tablets); and what they are using them for (60% use them for research and 52% for connecting with family and friends). Roughly a quarter (26%) indicate that their Internet skills have improved as a result of using the device. Perhaps most tellingly, two libraries have already found sponsors for the next year of funding once the pilot program expires in June 2018.
Brian and Jacob hope to grow the program next year by reaching out to four additional rural libraries across the state and offering the same trial period. They also hope to extend into areas beyond those served by the PCs for People network provider, and have been in discussion with local cellular providers about how such a program might work in conjunction with their network.
The success of the pilot project demonstrates that hotspot lending programs can be set up and hit the ground running with minimal cost and effort from library personnel. While “free” provision of the devices may be necessary for the initial phase, once the devices become available it seems that the community quickly understands their value and works with the library to maintain the service.
The Texas State Library and Archives Commission hosted a webinar in early September of 2017 on the topic of Hotspot lending programs. This hour-long webinar, led by Dr. Sharon Strover, is geared toward librarians or library staff who are interested in learning about both urban and rural lending programs.
The webinar was attended by 160 participants from locations all across the nation. Many thanks to the participants and to the TSLAC for facilitating this online event. Please contact the research team if you would like to hear more about running a similar webinar in your system.
Reaching Rural America With Broadband Service by Sharon Strover, Brian Whitacre, and Colin Rhinesmith hosted on the Daily Yonder, https://www.dailyyonder.com/reaching-rural-america-broadband-internet-service/2018/02/02/23364/
Goodland Public Library, part of the Northwest Kansas Library System (NWKLS), implemented one of the broadest-utilized lending programs in the Kansas State Library hotspot program. The library is highly regarded by the citizens of Goodland, as reflected by the number of people bustling in and out of the very large and bright space seated across from the Stanton County Courthouse. The library moved to their present facility from a very small Carnegie building in the 1970s. Goodland Library’s modern footprint affords the space to house 14 computers and provide free Wi-Fi for the entire block, including the parking lot and street parking adjacent to the library.
In order to announce that Goodland Library would be offering patrons a chance to “check out the Internet,” library staff posted about the program on Facebook, on their website, and ran advertisements on the radio and in the local paper as well as hung flyers and posted cards in the library. At first, early adopters of the hotspot program learned about hotspot checkouts on the library’s Facebook page. As the program continued, more people learned about the program through word-of-mouth referrals.
The library director initially believed the hotspot lending program would be popular among families looking for a mobile solution to take the Internet with them on a family vacation. However, she was surprised to learn that many patrons checking out the hotspot did not have Internet access at home and relied on the device to fill a critical need.
The director explained that around 70% of Goodland’s population is on a free-or-reduced lunch program and that there is a large under-served population in the area. Unfortunately, the director felt the number of under-served may only grow due to a nearby prison closure affecting employment in the area; she regretted to say she personally knew people who would be losing their jobs.
The hotspot program was popular, had a long waiting list, and very few issues with service, implementation, and loss. The library director indicated she had few problems compared to some of the other participating sites and nonchalantly discussed the ease of adding the devices to Goodland’s catalog.
She appreciated the monthly meetings set up by the Kansas State Library, but suggested that as the project came closer to the end, libraries should be able to opt-in to meetings due to the fact that the meetings were less pertinent to those fortunate enough to not have problems.
After the expiration of the state library grant, Goodland Public Library implemented a hotspot lending program of their own and expanded access tailored to their patrons’ needs. In order to fund the $40/month per device cost, the director secured funding through the library board. To continue the program, Goodland Library negotiated with Verizon, the same carrier that provided service during the state grant. The current program has unlimited data with the promise of no throttling, and Verizon included a brand-new set of Wi-Fi units. Verizon allowed them to keep the devices from the state grant, and Goodland has them stored as back-up in case a newer device fails. The library circulates three devices and are planning on adding a fourth.
Goodland initiated an interesting change from the state grant protocol and dedicated one device solely for short-term lending. Goodland has one short term device and the remaining devices retain the loan period of 7 days.
The director explained that her patrons shared with her they sometimes only needed the device for an evening or two, but that they could turn in the device right away again for others to use. In response, Goodland implemented a loan period of 1-3 days for one dedicated hotspot device.
Also, Goodland instituted a publicly-accessible Google calendar for patrons who wanted to reserve a device. The calendar schedules loan periods and accounts for waiting lists and reserves. This transparency affords patrons the chance to plan ahead and schedule important projects during the time they have access to a hotspot.
The director estimated that out of 85 check-outs, 40 of those check outs were wholly novel. This suggests that 47% of the population using hotspots had never been library patrons in the past.
She noted that a recent immigrant to the United States expressed both shock and joy in learning that libraries in America loan out the Internet; he did not have Internet access in his home country at all.
In another example of hotspot uses, local 4-H volunteers checked out hotspots to use at the Stanton County Fair in order to provide attendees the option to pay with credit cards. Following the example set by fair organizers, this year’s high school reunion will be using the hotspots so attendees can pay with their credit card. As well, a 500-person bird-hunting organization depends on the library hotspot device to register members during their annual convention in Goodland. As a part of the convention, the bird-hunting organization raffles off hunting rifles. Kansas law requires the club to register the winners’ rifles before the winners can take the rifles home to their respective states. The hotspot afforded fast and reliable registration for those hunters lucky enough to win. The hunting club will check out the device again for the forthcoming convention, and has entered itself back on Goodland’s Google calendar in preparation for the fall convention.
The breadth of Goodland’s hotspot program expanded beyond individual users and into social organizations, touching thousands of citizens in Northwest Kansas.
This library also offers significant services to children and their parents, providing a legally recognized “safe space” for separated or at-risk families to drop off and pick up children. There are weekly play time sessions for families and kids but these play times serve a dual purpose: the library invites specialists such as child behavioral professionals, speech pathology clinicians, legal professionals, and other critical social and developmental experts for parents to approach if they choose. Goodland Library prides itself on providing an environment to encourage the welfare of their patrons by providing low-stakes family education in a comfortable and beloved anchor institution in Northwest Kansas.
Programming examples listed above may not be directly related to the success of Goodland’s hotspot program, but instead reflect the inclusiveness and creativity the library enacts in order to serve the diverse needs of their rural population of 2300 people.
The Stanton County Library in Johnson City, KS is a part of the Southwest Kansas Library System. The library serves the cities and townships of Stanton County as well as a large population of traveling harvesters who come to work on local farms during harvest season. The library, which has been at its current location since 1972, provides access to computers, books, and other media to the Stanton County community.
Stanton County has had a county library since the 1960s, when a group of local women collected books in a Johnson City law office until the construction of the current library building. The current library has six staff members in total, three full-time and three part-time, and is open six days a week.
The library often sees patrons from Colorado given its location along the Western border.
The library got involved in the hotspot program through its membership in the Southwest Kansas Library System. The library director became interested in the program as a way to address the difficulty many residents experience accessing the Internet in their homes.
Following the popularity of the library’s hotspot lending program during its first year in 2015, Stanton County Library Director successfully applied for a $7,199 grant to continue the program for another year. The director received 15 new hotspot devices, the largest number of any Kansas library despite Stanton County’s modest population of approximately 2235 people.
Prior to the start of the pilot program, the library experienced a need for public internet access beyond its physical walls.. After noticing many patrons using library WiFi in the parking lot after hours, library staff used donated funds to build the Anna Mae Lewis Outdoor Library in order for patrons to comfortably use the internet outside the library at any time.
The library director noticed that many harvesters were traveling from overseas to work in Stanton County and needed internet access to contact their families while they were away. The outdoor patio facilitated this access for them and their families. This example demonstrates the library’s commitment to delivering services in such a way that reflects the community’s needs and interests
At the start of the pilot program, the Stanton County library had eight MiFi devices which were available to patrons with a library card. The library publicized the program via Facebook and their community calendar, but information also spread quickly about the program via word of mouth.
There has been a consistent waiting list for devices as demand within the community has exceeded the number of devices available. The library director noted that the library’s requirements to get a library card–merely that one needs to be eighteen years of age–aided in the simplicity of the MiFi borrowing program.
Patrons used the mobile hotspot devices in diverse ways. One patron often used the device when camping with his family in remote areas. Another family rented a device to ensure their son could finish his schoolwork while visiting a sick relative. The library director also noted that many patrons used the devices to hunt for jobs at home after the library closed. Though the uses of the devices were unique to each patron, each story is a testament to the necessity of library hotspot lending services.
The Stanton County library’s relationship with Verizon, the service provider for the MiFi devices, has been smooth. After the implementation of the grant-funded devices, patrons have not reported any issues with data throttling or outages. The director noted that she has heard very few complaints about the devices’ quality of service, and has only had to retire one device due to damage. No devices have been stolen since the implementation of the state grant. The director noted her strong relationship with Verizon and her satisfaction with their level of service throughout the program.
While the grant funding has allowed the Stanton County MiFi program to continue for another year, the library must find funding to continue the program beyond this time period. The director notes that she has a keen interest in continuing the program and her commitment to finding funding within the library’s budget.
In Jonesport, Maine, the Peabody Memorial Library serves the townships of Jonesport, Beals and Addison, which have a total population of over 3,000 residents. With almost 10,000 library visits annually, the library is a popular spot for its communities. The library offers events for children and senior citizens, computer literacy classes, tutoring, job training, genealogy databases, music events, serves as a local meeting place, and offers assistance in applying for social services. Throughout the library there is local art on display, and oftentimes there are special exhibits featuring local artists. Some of the library’s events from this past year include the Summer Reading Program, Music in the Library, a book sale, Poetry Reading, a wine and beer tasting fundraiser, Oil Painting Workshop and its 100th Anniversary Celebration.
The director’s favorite fundraising event is the Motorcycle Ride and Bike Show in collaboration with the Red Knights Motorcycle Club of Maine Chapter 3. With a cook-out and music from a local DJ, this event has the highest community turn out and also raises the most funds for the library every year.
The community centered focus of the library is reflected in its mission statement: “our mission is to provide services, cultural activities, technology education, and to act as a social resource to improve the quality of life in our area.”
The library director was excited to learn of NYPL’s hotspot program and jumped on the opportunity to implement a similar program at the Peabody Memorial Library and the program has been very successful. With 13 devices total and occasional wait lists, the director estimates about 40 to 50 families have taken advantage of the hotspot devices, with at least twenty families consistently relying on one.
Initially there were some technical difficulties as their devices did not seem to be working. But within a day, their Axiom representative fixed and returned the devices and they have not had any technical issues since.
During the school year, students with school issued devices and their families are the first in line for the devices. Keeping a private calendar to keep track of which households have the devices has been very effective. If another child in need of a device comes to the library, the director knows exactly which device can be recalled that still has data available. During the summer months, with school no longer in session, the eligibility for checking out the devices was relaxed to include any patron in need. This allowed the director to informally gather information about how well the devices are working for the library’s patrons.
As a new school year starts up, the director plans on visiting all of the nearby schools’ open house events in order to spread the word to students and families about the mobile hotspot lending program. The director estimates that about 20-25% of the students will not have home based internet access. With more than 60% of students in the communities’ schools on free-and-reduced lunch and more than 20% of the population below the poverty level, there are significant financial barriers in this community that make home based broadband difficult to obtain and keep.
For example, heating bills in winter can pose hardships. Residents in Jonesport, and other towns in Washington County, face high heating expenses during the winter months. Heating is expensive enough that residents cannot afford home based Internet during the winter – in order to pay for heating and fuel residents will sacrifice Internet access.
In addition, traveling during the winter can be difficult and getting to the library for Internet access can be dangerous. Having the hotspot devices has helped alleviate these concerns to an extent for the families who have checked them out but the director hopes to survey library patrons in order to more fully understand the effects of winter on the information needs of Jonesport.
The hotspot devices have also offered a few unforeseen benefits to students. For example, a device was checked out to a student who brought it on a field trip that required the students to bring their laptops. Consequently, every student on the bus was able to use the internet to and from the field trip and the positive feedback the library received is tremendous. Unfortunately, this kind of heavy use will eat up all of the available data in just one trip of a bus full of students using the device, but the students appreciate the hotspots very much.
During the summer, the hotspot devices were paired with a kindle for elderly patrons to check out. Older patrons have a difficult time getting to the library so the kindles have been a great outreach opportunity for the elderly, especially since the library’s limited budget means large print books, and other materials favored by elderly patrons are obtained through donations. Teaching the basics of the kindle has been easy enough, but once they take the device home, these patrons have had difficulty connecting to the internet or do not have home based internet. By pre-pairing the kindle with the hotspot device, the library has had success with elderly patrons being able to use the kindle more effectively at home because it will automatically connect to the internet through the hotspot.
Overall library investment into implementing the program has been very low. To date, the director estimates that a total of $15 has been spent on the pencil cases which hold the devices, the charger, the informational booklet, and the survey. The director acknowledges that survey response rates have been very low but she did not want to penalize the children from checking out a device just because their parent has not filled out a survey.