How one Library is “Loaning out the Internet” using Mobile Technology


People rely on their neighborhood library to borrow books, there  magazines,  and movies. But borrowing the Internet? How does that work? Providence Community Library (PCL) is leading the way.

PCL is a non-profit network of nine neighborhood libraries that provide free, accessible library services and serve as vibrant neighborhood hubs. Most recently, PCL has been a trailblazer in providing mobile technology to their patrons, redefining what library services means.

“With shrinking municipal budgets and nonstop technological advancement, public libraries need to be customer-driven and ensure their programs keep pace with patrons’ evolving needs. Librarians are uniquely qualified to identify and respond to those needs because we interact daily with community members from all walks of life,” said PCL’s library director, Laura Marlane.

Online resources continue to grow exponentially, but the value of these resources is inherently tied to how accessible they are. There are many barriers to access, such as a limited number of public computers available on-premise at a library, and an estimated 100 million Americans without access to the Internet at home.

PCL recognized an opportunity to reduce those barriers to access by creating a way to “loan out the Internet” via Mobile Beacon’s 4G device donation program on TechSoup.org. Mobile Beacon’s 4G mobile hotspots provide anytime/anywhere access plus unlimited data for only $10 per month.  “Access to library resources can be greatly expanded with mobile Internet devices. Working with Mobile Beacon, we can start to make that access-for-everyone dream a reality,” Marlane said.

 Internet Lending Project

PCL began circulating the 4G mobile hotspots to patrons from their Mount Pleasant location to enable Internet access in neighborhoods with low rates of home broadband service. The program allows patrons to borrow the hotspots for up to a week, enabling them to search for jobs, access information on healthcare and benefits, conduct research, complete homework, view entertainment, and stay connected with family and friends. The hotspots can accommodate up to eight users or Wi-Fi devices at a time, with no bandwidth usage limits.

“Mobile Beacon provided a new technology at a fraction of the cost of other commercial options, allowing us to offer a new service. One of our goals was to provide free broadband Internet access to patrons in their homes—and we’ve met that goal. We’re very pleased at how quickly it has taken off,” said Marlane.

The program proved so popular PCL has added eight more hotspots; some for circulation and some for staff use at events and with their bookmobile. The hotspots are constantly checked out:

  • 45 patrons have checked out the two hotspots that have circulated since 10/2012,
  • 41 more checked out the two additional hotspots that have circulated since 4/2013.

 More forward-thinking uses

Not only are plans are underway to acquire more hotspots for circulation at their other locations, PCL has been using the hotspots in many ways. So far, they have been able to:

  • Remotely connect to PCL’s reference services to answer questions, complete circulation duties, and provide free Wi-Fi for people in the area while hosting mobile events.
  • Provide Internet-accessible iPads for use with the bookmobile so patrons can come up and check their email.
  • Offer a subscription to an eBook program for kids so that librarians can use iPads to hold story times.
  • Provide Internet access for their mobile computer lab so they can take it on location and hold classes anywhere they are needed.
  • Enable staff to use the hotspots for meetings where they know they won’t have Wi-Fi access.
  • Demonstrate how the Internet can be helpful to previous non-users, and guide more individuals to sustained broadband use.

 What’s next?

Future plans include outreach to the elderly and disabled to teach them how to get online and explore the Healthcare Exchange options.

Having paved the way for libraries in how to use mobile technology, PCL’s programs have attracted national interest from groups such as the American Library Association and the Online Computer Library Center. They recently asked PCL to take part in a webinar on making technology more accessible and share their ideas on how to expand library services with technology.

Have you begun innovating with mobile technology? Please share your ideas with us.


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