Written by Emma Willig, Community TechCenter Coordinator, Techcenter / Makerspace, Downtown Main Library
Michelle Terschak often takes the short walk from her house to the Westwood Branch Library, visiting to check out books and participate in events at the branch. While there, she noticed information about a Library program providing free laptops and hotspots for customers living in neighborhoods with low digital access.
Michelle immediately thought to apply for them to share with her husband. “We live in one of the five target neighborhoods eligible for this grant. Our computer is very old and is hardly working,” Michelle says, “and I’m not the best with technology.”
Bringing Families Together
A few days after applying, Michelle picked up her laptop and hotspot at the Westwood Branch. Library staff trained her on how to use the laptop and mobile hotspot. “The technology is very user-friendly, including the hotspot,” Michelle says, “I can access my email on this laptop and use the Library website to access resources.”
Connecting with family and sharing digital access was the biggest draw for Michelle and many others. “The mobility and access to the internet was the main draw for me. I plan to use it with my elderly parents throughout the holiday season and new year. They don’t have any computer or internet access so this will be used to connect with my family.”
Breaking Down Barriers to Digital Access
Across the United States, over 42 million residents don’t have broadband, opens a new window and an additional 157 million have inconsistent internet service. Through feedback from the grant’s advisory board, we learned that the needs of our customers like Michelle aligned with the national trend.
Accessing high-speed internet is also expensive, opens a new window. It can be upwards of $100 just to install broadband let alone monthly costs to maintain service. Along with the lack of devices, there was an overwhelming call to address the lack of access to training and knowledge. Devices and hotspots aren't helpful when someone has never interacted with this technology.
Continuing to Build Digital Equity and Inclusion
Increasing digital access and proficiency for customers like Michelle is the first component of a larger grant awarded to the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Library by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
With 50 bundles of laptops and hotspots distributed, no additional laptops and hotspots are available to customers. However, the grant is continuing into 2022 to increase engagement in digital learning, build robust digital content, and create more access for seniors to virtual programs and enrichment.
This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
What do you view as the biggest barriers in our county’s digital divide and what do you think would help address them? Let us know by commenting below!
The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.