Evanston Public Library officials hope to launch a program next year to loan out cellular network hotspots to let customers without wifi access at home connect to the internet without having to find a public building or business that offers free access.
Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons is asking the Library Board to approve spending $15,000 on a pilot version of the program next year that she says would provide 75 hotspots that could be loaned out for two-week periods to Evanston library patrons.
Similar programs are already in operation at some other libraries around the country, including in New York City where 10,000 hotspots are being loaned out for a year at a time to library patrons over the age of 17. That works out to about one hotspot for every 1,000 New York residents — or roughly the same ratio planned for Evanston.
The New York program was announced in December 2014 and was funded in part by a $1 million grant from Google and a $500,000 grant from the Knight News Challenge
The Oak Park Public Library has a smaller program, with a three-week checkout limit and 10 hotspots available — or roughly one for every 5,000 of the village’s residents. And a program also launched this year in St. Paul, Minn.
Danczak Lyons said that, assuming not all the hotspots are spoken for, a user would be able to renew the checkout of the device for additional two-week periods.
Trying to close the so-called “digital divide” which leaves lower income people less likely to have home internet access was one of the objectives of the Evanston 150 project a couple of years ago.
And while current data doesn’t appear to be available on just how many Evanstonians lack home internet access, Danczak Lyons says she hopes the new program will help meet that need — and she’s also hoping to find a grant or donor to underwrite the program.
She says the program should be particularly appealing to Evanston Township High School students who are being provided with Chromebooks by the school this year and that it should also be helpful to residents seeking to apply for jobs online.
Asked whether she was concerned that some users might abuse the service — say running up huge bills streaming movies rather than researching homework projects — she said the experience in other places indicates users who get the hotspots tend to use them responsibly.