Library in Lenoir, N.C., Lends Internet to Residents

A new one-year pilot program will see the Lenoir Library lending residents laptops and Internet hot spot devices. The devices will be available to those with library cards to take home for two weeks at a time.

by Virginia Annable, News Topic / September 4, 2019

(TNS) — Rows of sleek, black computer bags are shelved behind the counter at the Caldwell County Public Library in Lenoir, N.C. They're a new way the library seeks to level the playing field.

That's how Library Director Lesley Mason sees the library's new laptop and Wi-Fi hotspot lending program: a way to give everyone equal access to technology and tools that are often needed for everyday tasks.

"This is perfect for us," Mason said. "We're all about access and taking away barrier."

The one-year pilot program, which is funded by a grant from Google, makes Chromebook laptops and internet hotspot devices -- which use cellphone signals to connect to the internet and broadcast a Wi-Fi connection for nearby wireless devices to use -- available for those with library cards to check out and take home for two weeks at a time.

Similar programs have been done in a handful of other libraries in the state, Mason said.

The program is aimed at giving people access to the internet outside library hours. About 2,000 Caldwell County residents don't have access to high-speed, broadband internet, and another 2,000 people don't have access to any wired internet, according to a press release from Caldwell County. Aside from internet access, 20% of county residents don't have a computer in their home.

Giving people internet access outside the library can take away the stress of job hunting or training at a library computer on a time limit, it can give students access at home to complete homework, or it can give access to someone who might get off work late and not be able to spend time at the library for internet access. Or, someone can use it to stream Netflix -- there's no restriction on the use of the library's devices.

Since it's a pilot program funded by a grant, the library will be tracking which devices people ask for and check out more often, and how they're using them, through a quick survey people can answer once they're done, Mason said.

"It will be intriguing to see what people need it for and how they use it," she said.

Jorge Gutierrez, the site operations manager for Google's Lenoir data center, said he and Mason hope many people will use the computers to further their training, whether that means by just getting better at using computers or earning skill certificates online.

"It gives them that additional time at home to bridge that gap," he said.

For people who aren't as skilled with computers, the library will hold computer classes in the fall, Mason said.

"We still have these people who are like, 'How do I use a mouse?' 'What do you mean 'double click'?' " Mason said. "So we're going to try to get that set up."

The computers are wiped clean after each use. While there's some worry about the hotspots or Chromebooks being lost or broken, that's the same risk that comes with any other library item, Mason said. To help ensure people don't keep the technology longer than two weeks, software has been installed to shut down and lock the computers and hotspots after two weeks of use.

The hotspots work only where cellphone data is available. Library staff will be able to look up people's addresses to see if the data will reach them, Mason said.

The program is one of the bigger ones in the state, and the grant, awarded to the Friends of the Caldwell County Public Library, is the biggest the library has received. It's a testament to what the community can do when people work together, Mason said.

"These things don't always have to happen in Charlotte or Raleigh or Durham," Mason said. "They can happen here in Caldwell County with some hard work."

Guitierrez added, "And strong partnerships."

For more information, visit the Caldwell County Public Library Facebook page or www.ccpl.us.

©2019 the News-Topic (Lenoir, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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