Since then, “They’ve been constantly circulated!” says Wright. Multiple people are on the waitlist for each of Pike County’s 20 devices at all times. She believes if they had 100 devices or more they would still all be checked out. And Eblin has witnessed a similar phenomenon in Meigs, reporting that the library system has lent out their 20 devices nearly 900 times in total. Patrons now know how to put their hotspots to good use, whether it’s sending out resumes, getting homework done, or occupying small children during long drives.
“With at-home learning, the kids needed [internet access] for school,” Wright says. “They received Chromebooks, but they weren’t provided internet access. The kids without internet had to have take-home packets with all the assignments on paper. So when they are able to drive to the library [to access the internet] with their Chromebook, or take a hotspot home with them, then they can submit more of their assignments online.”
Even as schools reopen, these libraries will continue to lend out hotspots to help local residents with schoolwork, job applications, and staying connected with loved ones. Helping to provide students with internet access at home is core to both T-Mobile’s efforts to close the homework gap, and our efforts to bridge the digital divide.
Eblin herself has seen the benefits of the program. “My mom's internet service went out at her home and it takes several days for them to come repair it,” she says. “I was on the list and was able to take one to her. She lives alone and, you know, it's kind of like a lifeline to be able to communicate with people.”
As part of this program, Facebook and T-Mobile also donated internet service access points. These Ruckus M510 access points are being deployed by FAO throughout the community to strengthen existing service where signals may be weak or to create several new Wi-Fi oases, hosting ~30-50 people at a time. For instance, FAO is working with local mentoring and afterschool programs like at the Sycamore Youth Center and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Ohio in Tuscarawas County to install access points capable of supporting several users at a time. The organization has also partnered with Oak Hill Food Pantry so that they can provide access when people come by to pick up groceries.
In fact, in Pike County, Wright will use one of those access points to launch the annual summer reading program this June. “To get the kids excited, we're going to have an event on the property of the future main library,” says Wright. “We’re going to have activities, some food, and — thanks to the access point — we can sign people up on the spot for the summer reading program or for library cards.”
The library MiFi program may also help libraries receive funding for more technology. With a year’s worth of internet service and WiFi hotspots in high demand, the program “enables libraries to provide this service without expending additional money, while also making the case for the need,” says Mormon.
For example, as part of her fundraising efforts for a new building in Pike County, Wright plans to write a grant proposal requesting money for technological infrastructure. She will build her argument by presenting hotspot usage numbers since October.
“Our dream is to have a building with more computers that people can use, more hotspots that people can take out, and to be able to extend our online programming,” says Wright. “We have big plans for the library and for the community.”