Award-Winning Kitchener Public Library Program Allows Patrons to Borrow the Internet!

This month, Dale Dyce, Manager of Marketing and Communications for the Kitchener Public Library, describes its award-winning Borrow the Internet program. Kitchener Public Library was the first library in Canada to make portable wi-fi hotspots available for borrowing by library members.

For decades, libraries have remained relevant and attracted new users by offering a diverse range of collections beyond the traditional book. CDs, DVDs, toys, tools, and musical instruments have all made their way to library shelves. Even virtual collections such as free music downloads and live-streaming movies and TV shows have become standard fare for most libraries.

We knew we had lots to offer, too, and increasingly those offerings included online collections and services. We also knew that in-home internet access was not universally available in our community. How could people enjoy the rich diversity of what their public library had to offer if they couldn’t come in the virtual front door?

In October of 2015 we decided to do something bold and proactive about bridging this digital divide. We launched our Borrow the Internet wi-fi hotspot lending program, the first of its kind by a library in Canada.

The small hand-held devices provide wi-fi access anywhere in Canada where there is Rogers cell coverage. The devices are completely mobile and last for hours on full charge. When turned on, the devices display a unique password so only the borrower can use the service. The hotspot devices are great for job seekers, students, or anyone who needs access to the internet or digital library resources.

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Our hotspots are available to anyone with a Kitchener Public Library card, and can be reserved online.

We started our hotspot collection with 20 devices, but quickly realized we were onto something big. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the service, we have since increased our collection to include over 50 devices, thanks in part to a generous donation from one of our local tech companies, Sandvine, a global leader in Network Policy control. It’s refreshing to see that services like those offered by non-profit public libraries have not gone unnoticed by our local technology sector.

The success of our wi-fi lending service also caught the attention of the OLA, which recognized the Kitchener Public Library with an Ontario Library Information Technology Association (OLITA) Project Award for our first-of-its-kind program at the January 2016 OLA conference in Toronto.

So where do we, and by that I mean all public libraries, go from here? The recent CRTC declaration that access to broadband internet is a basic telecommunication service is something library decision-makers everywhere will need to consider boldly. The regulators challenged everyone to “set ambitious goals, and to get on with connecting all Canadians for the 21st century,” but was troublingly silent on any mention around making the internet more affordable. As access to the internet becomes increasingly vital to participating fully in society, more and more Canadians will undoubtedly be looking toward their local library for help.

Learn more about Kitchener Public Library’s Borrow the Internet program: kpl.org/hotspot.

Follow the Kitchener Public Library on Twitter: @KitchLibrary

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