Library mobile hotspot program going strong; Hoping to expand in the future

Published 7:11 am Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Austin Public Library’s Mobile Hotspot program has become one of the library’s core services, according to Austin Public Library Director Julie Clinefelter, who updated the Austin City Council on the program’s progress during its work session on June 18.

“Closing the digital divide has been a long-term goal for public libraries,” she said. “To be involved in the community, you need internet. We’ve had internet at the library for years; this hot spot program is a way to make it more accessible.”

Developed as a means to help provide Internet access to students without home Internet while Vision 2020 developed a long-term plan for citywide Wi-Fi, the hotspot program began in January 2016. The Austin Public Library was the first Southeastern Libraries Cooperating (SELCO) library to offer a hotspot program. Public libraries in Rochester and Albert Lea only recently started offering hotspots.

Austin Public Library Director Julie Clinefelter

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Under the program, patrons may checkout a Wi-Fi hotspot device for three weeks as long as they agree to hotspot use procedures, are over the age of 18, have an Austin library card and have no outstanding fines from the library.

Devices not returned are suspended, providing no usability to the patron, and carry a fine of $5 per day the item is overdue.

According to Clinefelter, 75 of the library’s devices are available for request while 50 are circulated on a first-come basis. An average of 2,167 checkouts have been made annually since the program started, with anywhere from 75-80 on hold at any given time.

The program has been funded primarily through grant money from the Hormel Foundation and currently costs $45,000-$50,000 annually for the data plans.

Clinefelter hopes to expand the hotspot program, which is one of the council’s 2018 goals; however, funding is an issue. A few options to increase funding were discussed at the work session, but no decisions were made.

“It would be great to be able to grow it in the future,” Clinefelter said. “This was meant to be a hold over until a better solution could be found. We want to continue the program and make it as viable as we can. The Hormel Foundation has been very gracious in funding it and we hope they continue.”

“We know it’s important to our constituents,” she added.