For years now, libraries have provided a way to access the Internet. Now, some of them are allowing patrons to take that access with them.
The Boston Public Library on Tuesday launched a mobile WiFi hotspot lending initiative in an effort to expand free Internet access throughout the city, joining a growing number of libraries across the country that offer such loans.
“We see the library as a way of giving equal opportunity to all in our society,” said David Leonard, president of the Boston Public Library. “Participating in the digital life of society is just one more way we can help level the playing field.”
The library will lend 200 T-Mobile hotspots — portable devices that provide WiFi Internet access for users through nearby cellular towers — from its 26 branches throughout the city.
Library patrons can check out a hotspot just as they would a book — for free and for up to 21 days. The hotspot will work anywhere there is cellphone service, and there are no data caps for users, Leonard said. Patrons must be 18 or older to borrow a hotspot.
Leonard said the goal of the hotspot loan program is to ensure that people without broadband access in their community, who cannot afford an Internet provider or who don’t own a computer at home, can still have access to essential tools to keep up with modern life.
“It’s a necessity in participating in civic life today,” he said. “If you don’t have that access, you’re going to fall behind.”
The library’s hotspots are funded through a partnership between the city and Verizon. That alliance contributed $100,000 in 2016 to Boston’s Digital Equity Fund, which helps local organizations to advance Internet access and skills. To broaden its reach, the Boston library is also providing directions for using the hotspots in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Haitian Creole, four of the other most-commonly used languages in the region.
Leonard said the library was inspired in part by similar programs in Seattle, Chicago, and New York City. The Worcester Public Library also offers a hotspot lending program.
Boston’s hotspot loan program is a one-year pilot, according to the library. Library staff will conduct surveys with hotspot borrowers during the year to help establish best practices, and eventually secure more funding for possible continuation and expansion of the program.
Morgan Hughes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.