Hotspot 2023 Press Release:
The Austin Public Library’s Hotspot program began in 2015 as a project of Vision 2020. With generous support from the Hormel Foundation, the library has continued to provide free internet to community members who do not have, or cannot access, the internet at home. The last few years have seen both the growth of the “digital divide” (the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the internet, and those who do not) and an increasing trend of services being offered almost exclusively online. These services include applications for employment, social services, and school or college admissions, as well as portals to arrange medical appointments and file taxes. Access to the internet is quickly becoming a necessity, rather than a luxury.
Due to the changing needs of the community, the library will update current procedures to make the 2023 Hotspot program more flexible and responsive to patron needs. In 2023, an additional sixty devices (bringing the total to 160) will be available for checkout. In the past, the checkout period was three weeks, but moving forward, patrons will be allowed to keep the devices for three months at a time. Anyone with an Austin Public Library or Mower County Library card in good standing is eligible to check out a hotspot through the library.
To further address the digital divide, there will be another 100 devices available for families who do not have home internet access and have school-age children in the home. Austin Aspires has obtained grant money for the library to provide these additional devices to be checked out for the full school year. Families who meet this description should contact Austin Aspires at 437-0920 before coming into the library to complete the required application form.
Securing funding for the monthly data fees for these devices was only one part of the puzzle to address the digital divide. Without drastically reducing other library services and programs, the hotspot program could not have been expanded – and, in fact, may have been downsized – without additional staff to manage the program and provide work on the equally-important digital literacy aspect of the divide. The library worked with City Council and city administration to negotiate a new dedicated Technology Coordinator staff position, which has been approved for 2023.
The library’s mission continues to be connecting people with resources to foster literacy, equity and community in a safe and welcoming space, and wishes to thank the Hormel Foundation, Austin Aspires and City of Austin Council and leadership for the continued support in furthering this mission.