Providence Community Library

Mobile Tech Transforms Library Services 

 

Background

Providence Community Library (PCL) is a non-profit network of nine neighborhood libraries that provide free, accessible library services to improve and enrich the lives of people in Providence, Rhode Island.

Digital library 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. With shrinking municipal budgets and nonstop technological advancement, PCL needed affordable technology to keep pace with patrons’ evolving needs.

PCL staff experimented with using their cell phones for mobile Internet access, but the signal proved insufficient for their needs. In addition, they wanted to be able to provide Internet access to their underserved patrons. PCL recognized an opportunity to reduce those barriers to access by creating a way to loan out the Internet via Mobile Beacon’s 4G mobile hotspots.

Implementation

PCL secured two donated 4G mobile hotspots from Mobile Beacon through TechSoup’s product donation program. They began circulating these 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.

Results

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. PCL reports the hotspots are “constantly checked out.”

Plans are underway to acquire more Mobile Beacon hotspots for circulation at their other locations. PCL has also been using the hotspots to meet other library needs:

  • Remotely connecting 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.
  • Providing Internet-accessible iPads for use with the bookmobile so patrons can come up and check their email.
  • Providing Internet access for their mobile computer lab so they can take it on location and hold classes anywhere they are needed.
  • Enabling staff to use the hotspots for meetings where they know they won’t have Wi-Fi access.
  • Demonstrating how the Internet can be helpful to previous non-users, and guide more individuals to sustained broadband use.

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

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"Mobile Beacon provided a new technology at a reasonable price that allowed us to offer a new service to our staff and patrons. Our initial goal was to bring affordable (free) broadband Internet speed to patrons in their homes—and we’ve met that goal. We’re very pleased at how quickly the programs have taken off."

— Laura Marlane, Director, Providence Community Library