Cutting-edge libraries are addressing all aspects of broadband adoption: home Internet access, public Internet access, digital literacy training, and support and access to devices. As part of this effort, libraries are searching for and experimenting with innovative digital divide solutions that include increasing home broadband access.
The Power of Partnerships
The barriers to broadband adoption are well-documented: digital literacy, relevancy, and cost. Digital literacy and relevancy are often addressed simultaneously; libraries and nonprofit organizations teach digital literacy skills by showcasing the relevant use of the Internet and providing direct training classes.
To successfully increase broadband use in communities, all three barriers must be addressed through a diverse set of local partners with established roots in the community.
Libraries are an integral piece of this partnership. They are addressing these barriers through partnerships with cities and local community-based organizations and developing engagement strategies that meet the unique needs of their residents. Each solution must tailored to the individual community.
Trust of the individual and organization providing the instruction on technology use and broadband provider options is essential. As one of the most trusted institutions in every community, libraries are an important piece of the solution. Two great examples of how libraries are playing this visible role include the Kansas City Public Library (KCPL) and The New York Public Library (NYPL).
Kansas City Alliance for Digital Inclusion
KCPL coordinates the Kansas City Alliance for Digital Inclusion. The alliance has a mission to facilitate collaboration among organizations and initiatives working to bridge the digital divide in order to maximize the resources for the greatest impact. KCPL has hosted a regional digital inclusion summit and is hosting the Net Inclusion 2016: The National Digital Inclusion Summit on May 18 – 19, 2016.
KCPL is also a part of a partnership between the city's school district, the public library, and two local nonprofit organizations. This partnership resulted in a pilot program to equip 25 underserved families with portable Wi-Fi hot spots and a tablet at no cost. Under the program, each participating family can "check out" the device for the school year and use it however it wants — homework, job searching, game playing, social media, etc.
The partnership is working to expand the program as additional funding is found. KCPL's work was recently highlighted in an article in the National Journal.
Broadband Adoption at NYPL
NYPL President and CEO Tony Marx determined that broadband adoption would be a priority for NYPL. He challenged his staff members to show how the library could have a greater impact on broadband adoption rates; they performed comprehensive research about how to best provide increased broadband access.
The findings revealed that the most successful community-based programs combine a computing device, broadband service, and digital literacy training, together, into one program. Recognizing the difficulties involved in scaling a program to include these three layers, NYPL focused on one piece: the broadband service.
This focus resulted in the pilot New York City Library HotSpot program. This pilot program was expanded to include the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) and the Queens Library (QL). The hotspot program has been well-received by patrons.
To learn more about how libraries are encouraging broadband adoption, visit the Benton Foundation to read about Libraries' Increasing Role in Broadband Adoption.
About the Authors
Katherine Bates is a senior program manager at the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). Her focus is on the digital evolution and transformation that urban libraries are undergoing. ULC, founded in 1971, is a membership association of leading public library systems in the U.S. and Canada. Katherine has worked in state and local government for almost 25 years.
Angela Siefer is the director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. NDIA's purpose is to work collaboratively to craft, identify, and disseminate financial and operation resources for digital inclusion programs while serving as a bridge to policymakers and the general public. Angela has worked in the field of digital inclusion for 19 years.