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'Pop-Up' Library Brings Internet Access to Rural Virginia

Library patrons, and even those without a library card, can stop by to use one of its 15 Chromebooks and a wireless printer, as well as other library services.

(TNS) -- Internet access can be hard to come by at the farms and houses that dot rural Spotsylvania County, Va., near Lake Anna and Mineral.

But that is changing, thanks to a new partnership between the county and the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. It’s resulted in a weekly “pop-up” library equipped with Wi–Fi at the Belmont Community Center. Library patrons, and even those without a library card, can stop by from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to use one of its 15 Chromebooks and a wireless printer, as well as other library services.

“It’s an area that doesn’t have a lot of broadband network service, so we’re really excited to bring these kinds of services outside of our branches and down here in the southern part of Spotsylvania,” said Chris Glover, the library’s assistant director for information technology. “It’s just a great partnership that is really providing a service for this end of the county that they haven’t been able to have before.”

Glover and Jane Reeve, Spotsylvania’s director of information services, serve on the county’s Cable Commission and came up with the idea while talking after one of its meetings. Efforts to have the CRRL partner with some of the county’s schools to provide access hadn’t panned out, and they realized they could use the Belmont and Berkeley community centers instead.

Both are near Spotsylvania fire stations, which are connected to the county’s internal network equipment. They figured it would be fairly simple to provide those buildings with Crossroads Connection, the county’s public wireless access.

“We were just brainstorming and the light bulb went off,” Glover said. “You’ve got fiber. We’ve got computers.”

The CRRL then approached the Belmont Ruritan Club and the Belmont Club of Women, which own the community center, to see if members were interested.

“The library said, ‘We have a deal for you that would be a new role and visibility for the building,’ ” said Gary Jackson, the Ruritan Club’s IT committee chairman. “We told them, ‘We’re all in.’ ”

The library had been offering limited services at the community center so patrons could check out and return books, audiobooks and videos from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. every other Monday. It began offering the expanded services on April 10, but only began publicizing it recently. Few people have taken advantage of its broadband connection so far. Use is expected to pick up once word spreads.

“We’re anticipating that the kids, particularly, will take advantage of it,” Jackson said. “They’ve got to do homework. They’ve got to do research.”

Willie Biscoe, who served on the Spotsylvania County School Board for 16 years in the 1970s and 1980s, stopped by the community center Monday with her granddaughter-in-law and three young great-grandsons, mainly so they could get books.

“I think that’s good,” she said of equipping the building with broadband. “I’m sure there are children who do not have access.”

Wi–Fi will be available at the Belmont Community Center 24/7, so people can tap into it even when the library isn’t there or the building is closed.

“We’ve done a survey of the parking lot to see how far coverage goes,” said Jackson. “We figure people will pull up and use it.”

Reeve said the Cable Commission has been looking at ways to provide broadband access to the county’s rural areas for some time. The main option people living there have had until now is satellite internet service or a cellular Wi-Fi hotspot, or to go to a public facility like the library.

“That can get expensive for home use,” she said of using a hotspot. “If you’re not careful, you can rack up a pretty hefty bill.”

Spotsylvania and the CRRL see the pop-up library at the Belmont Community Center as a pilot project. They’re considering teaming up to provide similar services at the Berkeley Community Center, which is just down Partlow Road from Spotsylvania Fire Station 3.

“Our hope and dream is to continue to partner with Spotsylvania to expand service to additional locations,” said Martha Hutzel, CRRL director. “We’d love to be at Belmont twice a week. We could do family night movies on Fridays since we have license agreements. We could do popup libraries at farmers markets, festivals or whatever. … The possibilities are endless.”

©2017 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.