Wireless Beyond the Building: Mobile Beacon

22 April 2013 – by Brenda Hough

Most libraries now offer wireless Internet access within the building, so visitors can use their own devices to get online. Some libraries are going beyond that and are providing wireless access outside of the library, too (and I don’t just mean in the parking lot after hours). If you’re intrigued, read on! And check out the Mobile Beacon donation program at TechSoup.

Mobile Beacon:

Mobile Beacon provides 4G mobile broadband devices to eligible libraries. Available 4G devices include modems, portable USB modems, and mobile hotspots for connecting to the Internet from the office or while traveling. You can use these 4G devices to connect compatible computers, smartphones and tablets to the Internet from any location within the 4G coverage area. The 4G devices must be used with a subscription to Mobile Beacon’s 4G mobile broadband service for nonprofits.

Take Training Out of the Library:

Maybe you want to take training out of the building, but you’re not sure how to make it happen. For example, during last week’s online health information webinar, we discussed libraries that go into the community to provide online health information training at local health fairs and events. With a couple of laptops (or tablets) and a mobile broadband device (like the Mobile Beacon), you could make it happen anywhere!

Last fall we talked to trainers from the Poudre River Public Library District (Fort Collins, CO) about the library’s Tech-a-la-Carte program. Using a small mobile computer lab, the library takes technology training into the community… sometimes right into the homes of community members. The lab provides the library with the flexibility to respond to the particular needs (content, location, time, and day) of specific groups. Again, with laptops (or tablets) and a mobile broadband device (like the Mobile Beacon), you could make it happen.

Checking Out Hotspots:

Rhode Island: At the Providence Community Library (RI), patrons can check out a Mobile Beacon, allowing them to use the Internet with a smartphone, computer or other wireless device for free. Read this article on WebJunction for more information and also view the library’s Lending Guidelines.

Texas: With their Tech-to-Go program, the Salado Public Library (TX) not only provides laptops for people to check out, but also mobile wireless hotspots.

Pennsylvania: An inspiring example from outside of the library world is the People’s Emergency Center (PEC), a homeless services and neighborhood revitalization nonprofit in Philadelphia, which has been using Mobile Beacon devices. They use them to provide broadband to families in their transitional and permanent housing programs. PEC is also running 20 computer training labs, called Keyspots, where kids can earn a free refurbished desktop. Adults also go there to get training, netbooks, and the Mobile Beacon hotspot devices, which they set up at home. Families often elect to take the computers and Mobile Beacon devices with them when they leave, once they find out how useful broadband and computers are for their children. You can learn more in this TechSoup article.

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