Is the hotspot check out at the St Paul Public Library in jeopardy?

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune outlines the trials and tribulations of the mobile hotspot checkout at the St Paul Public Library…highland

The metro area so far appears slow to embrace a trend described as “huge” by the president of the American Library Association (ALA) [lending portable hot spots to library patrons ]. The firm recommended by the ALA as a source of steeply discounted portable hot spots to libraries reports that about 360 systems across the country have taken up its offer, but only one in Minnesota.

And that one, the St. Paul Public Library, is warning it may have to withdraw its units unless it can find a sustainable funding source.

The difficult debate is how to handle a resource that’s so popular…

At a time when some library systems are seeing a decline in conventional services, libraries that do offer hot spots say they are the hottest item they lend. Those libraries still on the sidelines, however, say they are leery for a number of reasons.

First, library patrons commonly endure long waits for the units. With 130 units available through the St. Paul libraries, holds can last months even though most units can be retained for only a week.

And then there’s the issue of finding a reliable funding source to buy them. Many systems offering hot spots get grants to do so, but librarians worry about being forced to yank the popular option for lack of funding after users get accustomed to it.

It’s a difficult situation. Free wifi is a good way to get broadband into low income homes – to level the playing field in the same way computers in the library does. Maybe there’s an opportunity to send the hotspot home with a brochure on local options for low cost broadband subscriptions and Lifeline support. There may be some patrons who are able and willing to pay for a connection with support. Otherwise I hope they find ways to make it work. It’s sad to have to abandon or not try a program that is so popular. Good news for St Paul Public…

The prospect of St. Paul residents continuing to borrow hot spots has improved just in the past few weeks. Funds have been found to allow the library to offer hot spots for the rest of the school year for sure, and perhaps through the end of 2017.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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