Libraries Can Improve Patron Experience By Expanding Digital Services Using E-Rate Funding

According to FCC reports, 24 million people in the U.S. lack broadband internet access. In the coronavirus times, the need for internet access is more important than ever. So how can libraries maximize their resources to improve the patron experience? The FCC’s E-Rate funding is one solution.

The E-Rate program makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. The ongoing proliferation of innovative digital learning technologies and the need to connect students, teachers, and workers to jobs, education, social services, and information has led to increased demand for bandwidth. 

COVID-19 and expanding digital services using E-rate funding for libraries

The IMLS is distributing $30 milling in funding to libraries across the U.S. as part of the CARES Act in response to the impact of COVID-19. States will be able to use the funds to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to citizens to address digital inclusion efforts. Rural schools and libraries may also receive more funds to get the internet. It’s worth noting that rural service areas have the highest percentage patron use of library WiFi, according to our national data

How can WiFi insights support your library’s need for E-Rate funding? 

Our library partners use WiFi analytics as a way to accurately count WiFi sessions, both for PLS reporting and internal library advocacy.  They’ve also used the insights for program selection and layout changes.  

Now due to COVID-19, libraries are adjusting how they serve patrons.  Many libraries made WiFi accessible 24/7, which was later an official recommendation from the ALA. This was a smart move and allowed our partner libraries to understand how their patrons were using the service. WiFi analytics showed there was continued activity even though libraries were closed to the public. What this told us was that patrons still needed to use the library for WiFi access. But now instead of being inside the building they were sitting outside, in the parking lot, and using after hours. Understanding how and when patrons are using a service is key to making sure libraries are equipped to continue and expand this service. 

What can we learn from WiFi insights in the time of coronavirus? 

Let’s start with what we know. We know that patrons are continuing to use library WiFi services. We know there is an increased demand for internet access since many schools and jobs have moved online. We know that millions of Americans lack sufficient internet at home. And we know that the library is often their primary source of internet. 

According to a Public Library Association (PLA) survey, 98% of respondents reported their buildings were closed to the public but staff continued to expand digital products and launch virtual programs. Creative ideas keep communities connected – like offering “drive-in WiFi”, expanding digital access, moving adult and children’s programming to an online format, and offering all kinds of digital resources. It seems like this will be the norm for the foreseeable future, so libraries need the bandwidth to support the increased patron need and their own programming. This is how E-Rate funding can help libraries improve the patron experience. 

How to apply for E-rate funding for libraries

Applying for E-rate funding can seem complicated, especially if it’s your first experience with the application process. If you’re a public library applying for E-rate funding, here’s what you need to know about the application process. 

Who runs the E-rate funding program? 

According to the FCC website, the E-rate program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company under the direction of the FCC. USAC is responsible for processing the applications for support, confirming eligibility, and reimbursing service providers and eligible schools and libraries for the discounted services. USAC also ensures that the applicants and service providers comply with the E-rate rules and procedures established by the Commission.

Where do I fill out the E-rate funding application for my library?

The USAC website has a step-by-step guide to follow. It also outlines the process for applicants and providers so you have a full understanding of how the system works. On the USAC website, there is a ‘Get Started’ web page that details your next steps. You will need to set up an account on the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) to fill out your application through this application management portal. There are also E-rate consultants that can help you apply for funding such as Funds for Learning that can help guide you through the process as well.

How does a library WiFi strategy help with planning for the post-COVID future?

Creating and implementing systems to meet community needs during a crisis will carry forward in positive ways in the future. Public libraries will be even more well-positioned to lead the way in bridging the digital divide. Libraries will have a game plan for the next crisis and the tools necessary to respond quickly.  Public libraries will continue to provide a valuable and necessary service to everyone by being thought leaders, community advocates, and coming up with creative solutions. 

Want to know more about WiFi insights for your library? Book a demo today!


wifi analytics book cover

WhoFi Customers Can Download WiFi Analytics Book For Free

Exciting news for our WhoFi partners: our recently published book, WiFi Analytics: Track, Improve, Grow, is now available to all customers as our gift to you. You can access your digital copy of the WiFi analytics book by logging into your WhoFi dashboard and going to the monthly report section. 

At WhoFi, we strongly believe that insights gained through WiFi analytics can improve communities and strengthen public spaces. This is why our co-founder, John Kerber, recently published a book about WiFi analytics and how it helps real-world communities. We’re very excited to release it to all of our customers!

What’s the WiFi analytics book about? 

This book explains all about the emerging and exciting technology of WiFi analytics in an easy-to-read format. WiFi analytics is a tool to help create strong communities. This technology can transform your community space or public library while building trust through maintaining visitor privacy. The book covers topics including which industries are using WiFi analytics and what hardware, software, or service you need to get started. You’ll learn more about the specific technologies that work together to improve public venues and communities, such as social WiFi, foot traffic, guest WiFi, WiFi marketing, and presence analytics. There’s also special coverage on user privacy so you can ask smart questions and make informed decisions.

WhoFi helps real-world spaces understand and engage with their patrons within the building and beyond. And when your community is spending more time at home, keep them engaged and connected.  With the insights we provide, you’re more prepared to meet organizational needs with proper staffing, programs, and resources to meet community needs.

Whether you’re a long-time customer or just started with our service, this book can provide valuable knowledge so you can better understand the power of WiFi analytics and how to use it to improve and serve your community. If your library or community space recently gained a new director, this book would be a great asset to share. 

How to download your ebook

  1. Login to your WhoFi customer account.
  2. Navigate to the monthly reports section.
  3. Here, there will be a downloadable version of the book.
  4. Click and save to your computer or device.

Want to know more about WhoFi and how we partner with you to improve communities? Visit our website, or book a demo


Why Libraries Need High Speed Internet

During COVID-19, high-speed internet is a life-line — that millions of Americans lack. Libraries need high-speed internet to better serve communities. Lack of internet access in some communities has been a problem since the explosion of the internet. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, lack of internet access is creating wider gaps between those with access, and those without. 

It means the difference between students being able to get an education, or not.

Workers being able to maintain their jobs, or not. 

People being able to access social services and health information, or not. 

This pandemic is highlighting and exacerbating inequalities that have always been a problem. One in which public libraries are on the front lines of service. The need for internet connection now is critical. 

The ability to connect to the Internet has been recognized in a number of countries as a human right, or at least as a core public interest utility. Internet access is considered a platform in which an individual can access the tools and skills necessary to improve their lives and participate in the economy and access government. In coronavirus times, it also means it’s how we go to school and work. 

Now with social distancing measures in effect for the workplace and schools, access to the internet is absolutely necessary, yet according to FCC reports, 24 million people in the U.S. don’t have broadband internet access. 

There is a solution – make sure all public libraries have high-speed internet. 

Libraries need high-speed internet because the demand for access is increasing and needs to be met with enough bandwidth to support it. 

Although libraries report increases in their connection speeds, they continue to report that their connection speeds are insufficient to meet patron needs some or all of the time. This is of critical importance, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is changing the nature of work. Currently, 77 percent of the workforce is working remotely at least one day a week. And school districts are extending remote learning into the fall semester as the pandemic is uncontrolled in many areas. 

Lack of connectivity disproportionately affects vulnerable and rural populations. Right now, 45 percent of low-income families and approximately a quarter of rural communities do not have access to broadband. These communities often rely on the public library as their primary source of internet. Yet this study shows that rural libraries have the slowest internet connection speeds. So when schools are closed and the classroom moves online, libraries need to have the bandwidth to accommodate patron needs. 

Libraries Move Their Programming Online

According to a Public Library Association (PLA) survey, 98% of respondents reported their buildings were closed to the public but staff continued to expand digital products and launch virtual programs. While nothing can replace the real-world library experience, libraries have done a good job adapting to continue to serve communities. Creative ideas keep communities connected – like offering drive-in WiFi”, expanding digital access, moving adult and children’s programming to an online format, and offering all kinds of digital resources. Since it seems many areas will continue to operate this way, library staff need high-speed internet just to be able to continue to provide these online services. 

The homework gap expands

Twelve million school children don't have sufficient internet access at home to finish class assignments. The digital divide expands and creates a phenomenon called the homework gap. Now that schools are doing remote learning instead of in-person instruction, this means the kids without reliable internet are receiving little to no instruction at all. This could have negative implications for years to come and perhaps create a generational problem. 

While there are other factors to consider, such as access to transportation or adult involvement in children’s education, the public libraries in all communities need to be able to handle the increased stress of the coronavirus reality. This helps the community stay afloat while we work as a nation to close the digital divide. 

The coronavirus has made the disparity in access glaringly obvious. It’s not something we can ignore.  High-speed internet access is no longer a privilege, it’s a necessity, and many Americans are lacking. Right now, public libraries are on the front lines. They're in a position to be able to adjust and adapt, relatively quickly, and provide this service to the communities. 

Many libraries have already adopted drive-in WiFi and created accommodations for patrons to access the internet while social distancing. We can lessen the blow to the most vulnerable communities during this time of crisis by equipping all public libraries with high-speed internet. It's the most centralized, quickest way to help more people get internet access.

Public libraries provide access to technology and a safe space to learn and work.

In areas where communities rely on the library for internet access, many people also lack the proper technology to complete work, homework, or other tasks. Applying for jobs, watching school videos and completing assignments, or applying for social benefits requires more than just a smartphone. Libraries have always been a place where school children without home computers can do homework and get online. Now that many more people in the community need to use the library services and WiFi to file unemployment claims, make doctors’ appointments, attend telehealth appointments, and other necessary tasks, the load on the library WiFi is increasing. 

Many jobs require online applications. Government agencies also increasingly require individuals to go online for critical services and resources. To meet this growing community demand, public libraries require reliable, affordable, and high-quality internet access.

Some libraries are now opening in phases and offering access to computers and printers in a limited capacity to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This is something to consider as libraries navigate the next phase of library service. 

Remote work is here to stay

Even before the pandemic, remote work was on the rise, with more than one-third of the U.S population doing remote work. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report estimates that 37 percent of the workforce can be entirely remote since their jobs don’t require operating equipment or being face-to-face with customers, like the service industry or medical jobs. 

Freelancers, contractors, and remote workers of all kinds could benefit from using a workspace that is outside of the home. Many households now have both partners working from home while also caring for kids, which is challenging. Having space to work outside of the home could relieve some of the pressure. 

Planning for the post-COVID future needs to include a library WiFi strategy.

We’re now six months into the COVID crisis and the data is clear that social distancing measures will be in place for the foreseeable future. Many schools across the country have already made the decision to do online learning for the first semester.  Access to high-speed, reliable internet is a critical component for students and workers right now. Equipping our libraries with the bandwidth needed to meet this increased need can help relieve the pressure on communities and individuals and help students and workers be successful. Creating a broadband structure in every city and town is a big undertaking, and we need access now. Libraries are already in a position to be able to offer this. 

Would you like to know more about how WiFi analytics can benefit your library or community space? Book a demo and read what our partners are saying about us.


Special Report Update: Effects of COVID-19 on Public Library WiFi Use

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, WhoFi released a special report about the effects of COVID-19 on public library WiFi use.  We analyzed library WiFi usage during March – the month that many libraries closed their buildings. This report consisted of consolidated data from our library partners across the U.S. to provide a better understanding of the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the effect on public library WiFi use. 

A PLA survey report showed that 98% of libraries closed to the public in March due to COVID-19. However, the WiFi data from our insights showed a national decrease in WiFi usage of only 67%. This shows patrons were accessing the library WiFi in other ways besides actually being in the physical library building. The same PLA survey also noted that 81% of libraries decided to leave their WiFi on and available to the public. Since a high number of libraries left WiFi on, the drop in usage of only 67% makes sense. 

Our data shows that between the first week and last week of March, visitor usage dropped significantly, then leveled. These WiFi usage trends correlated with key dates in the coronavirus timeline. 

In our Special Report Update, we used the same parameters as our initial report: gathering insights from all of our library partners combined to identify national trends, changes based on population size, and if there were any key dates that correlated with changes. Essentially, what has been the public response since the onset of the pandemic, and did library service adaptations seem to affect behavior?

Library WiFi Insights Have Shown Increased Usage Since March

Our data shows that after the initial drop in WiFi usage in March, trends steadied and then began to rise around April 26. In fact, there’s a steady increase in WiFi usage nationwide and across cities and towns of all population sizes. Library efforts to enhance and extend WiFi services, paired with a solid communication plan, seem to have the desired effect of helping patrons stay connected. The total number of visits, however, isn’t as high as it was prior to shut-downs. 

The national WiFi usage rates were down 70% in April from the average of previous months usage rates. By the end of June, the national WiFi usage rates increased 40%. On March 23, the ALA officially recommends libraries leave WiFi on. Our insights show that from March 15 to April 19 library WiFi usage remained about the same across population sizes. A consistent effort by the libraries to promote their continued and extended WiFi services helped communities use the service. Since then, there’s been a consistent increase in usage.

Library Service Area And Patron WiFi Needs

In our first report, we analyzed data by comparing urban and rural service areas to determine if there was a difference in WiFi usage across the population sizes. Our data showed that library WiFi use in urban areas had the greatest decrease, although both urban and rural service areas showed a drop. There are a variety of social, cultural, and economic factors that contribute to these numbers, as we learned from conversations with our library partners. There’s also plenty of national data referencing how the digital divide contributes to this. 

Patrons in rural service areas often rely on the public library as their main source of internet. 

Rural service areas have a higher percentage of the population that uses the library WiFi and showed more stable usage patterns since March. When schools moved to an online learning model for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, students needed a reliable source of internet to complete schoolwork. Libraries and school systems come together to bridge the gap and provide critical services for those who need them. The library has been a place for school children to use library computers to complete homework. Now, with library buildings closed, they don’t have access to computers or WiFi. Schools and libraries are working together to loan laptops, provide mobile hotspots, and extend WiFi reach in library parking lots.

Breakdown of WiFi usage rates by service population size

The graph above shows the WiFi usage rates of each population size from March 1 to July 4. The most drastic change in usage rates was in the 100,000-1,000,000 population size group, which still hasn’t regained half of its previous WiFi usage rates. Another interesting metric is the 1-2,500 population size group, which has now regained nearly all of its previous WiFi usage rates. Smaller population areas have also recovered a higher percentage of WiFi use compared with numbers from March. See the graph below.

Timeline of events, key dates, and COVID-19 effects on public library WiFi use

In our initial report, data showed that there was a clear change in WiFi usage between March 11-15, which correlated with national events related to the coronavirus. There have been significant events since that surrounding the increasing number of coronavirus cases and economic impact, see bullets below. However, there isn’t a clear correlation between WiFi usage rates and specific dates. It’s worth noting that as these events unfolded – increased cases and increased unemployment claims – so, too, did public library WiFi usage rates. 

  • April 16 Around 5 million more Americans filed for first-time unemployment claims.
  • April 18 More than 700,000 people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus. 
  • April 23 Another 4.4 million Americans filed unemployment claims, bringing the total to more than 26 million claims.
  • May 17 The number of coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 90,000. Confirmed cases in the country also rose to nearly 1.5 million.
  • May 21 Another 2.44 million Americans filed for initial unemployment benefits the week before, bringing the total number of people who lost their job so far during the coronavirus pandemic to almost 40 million.
  • May 26 The World Health Organization said the Americas had emerged as the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

Libraries are important to communities, especially in times of crisis.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, lack of internet access was a big problem. Now, it’s critical. Public libraries are on the front lines of this problem helping patrons stay connected to school, work, family.  They’ve also been important for social services such as filing for unemployment and completing the census which requires a connection to the internet.  The data is clear: WiFi is a valuable resource the libraries offer. Tracking this could prove to be beneficial in future library advocacy efforts. Questions about how to get insights for your library? Schedule a demo with our team.

 

 


Community Is Bigger Than A Building

Public libraries across the nation are struggling to reopen their doors, with 47% saying they’re unsure when they will reopen to the public. Libraries are places of community and connection for everyone. People rely on the library for more than books and videos. Libraries offer social services like literacy programs, U.S. citizenship classes, continuing education, housing, and tax assistance. Libraries have also become a safe haven for people experiencing homelessness who need to access social services or simply use the public bathroom. COVID helps us understand that our community is bigger than a building. 

People want to feel close to a community even while being apart. 

Libraries, and all community spaces, are the pillars of every community. When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country, spaces closed and people stayed in their homes. Social gatherings moved online, which helps us stay connected but doesn’t replace the real-world interactions. Businesses, community spaces, and public libraries adapted to the new normal and found ways to continue to serve communities. Since it seems like this will be the reality for a while now, adaptation is necessary to stay connected and continue to be the strong pillar communities need.

Staying Connected Beyond Buildings

Social distancing is hard because it’s contrary to human nature. Studies show that social connection is beneficial to our health, and lack of it is bad for our health. So much so that loneliness is considered a health hazard. Currently, people are experiencing a significant increase in depression and anxiety symptoms related to coronavirus. This common human experience is natural, considering human nature and our need for connection. 

Libraries and public spaces help create a sense of community and connection. So when libraries make their services and programs available through alternative methods, this helps to strengthen the bonds between the individuals of the community and the library institution. 

A Community Is The People, Not Just A Building 

It does make a difference for patron experience to have an updated space, lots of resources, new technology, and all of the amenities a library provides. But right now the community can’t use these facilities. We can’t gather around for storytime, or scan the isles for a book that piques our interest, or use computers, printers or other office services. We don't get face time with friends and our favorite local librarian. We're unable to sip a latte while we watch the kids play in the children’s area. Patrons directly benefit from these activities that happen within the physical walls of our libraries. 

Proactive library systems are right now shifting focus outside of the physical building and nurturing what actually makes up the community: the people.

The people are still here.

People still need programs and services.

People need a connection. 

Recognizing and speaking directly to this will help libraries and other public spaces stay connected to the people they serve, and further endearing patrons' hearts to community institutions. Doing so can help us feel close even when we’re apart. 

Here are 5 ways to stay connected to your patrons even when your doors are closed. Would you like to know more about how WiFi analytics can benefit your library or community space? Book a demo and read what our partners are saying about us.


stay connected to communities

5 Ways To Stay Connected To Your Community Even With Closed Doors

Human connection is something we inherently know we need, in some capacity, because of the very nature of our being. We are social creatures and rely on one another – our community – for survival. We need to stay connected to communities. Now that we aren’t gathering in public places, nurturing the community beyond the building is crucial. 

Here are 5 ways public libraries can stay connected to their communities while doors are closed to the public.

1. Curb-side pick-up

Many libraries started an online checkout and pick-up program so patrons can continue to borrow books, movies, games, and, in some locations, technology equipment. This service lets patrons still enjoy borrowing while staying safe with a contactless pick-up. This practice also works well for patrons that need library services for unemployment forms, voting resources, or job-seeking guides.

2. Online Storytime and Programs

Children’s storytime is a beloved activity for many families. It’s enriching for the kids and is a safe activity for families. Being able to socialize with other kids is great, but when libraries close, online storytime is the next best thing. Kids can enjoy seeing their favorite library teachers read books which can help kids feel a sense of normalcy during uncertain times. Some programs for older kids can be moved to an online format, too. 

TIP: Promote the page on your website and make signs for the library windows. Post online programs to your library’s Facebook page so they can be easily accessible. 

3. Drive-in WiFi

Many people depend on the library WiFi as their main source of internet, especially in rural areas. So when doors close that is a big concern for the patrons who need access to the internet. To get around this problem while maintaining social distancing, libraries implemented a ‘drive-in WiFi’ practice. Patrons can sit in their own cars or outside the library while accessing the internet. Some libraries moved access points closer to the windows to extend the signal and began promoting this to the community so more people could use it. 

TIP: promote this service on your website, Facebook page, and make signs for the windows with WiFi access information.

4. Online/curbside project pick-up

Since in-person library programs aren’t an option right now, these crafts and projects can be packaged up and available for curbside pick-up for families who want them. Or, create a downloadable version that can be printed and used at home.

5. Outdoor programs

As we learn more about the coronavirus and what activities are safe, it seems that outdoor, socially distanced activities are considered low risk. Libraries could offer outdoor storytimes or other programs using a reservation system to limit capacity and implement proper protective measures such as masks and social distancing. 

Would you like to know more about how WiFi analytics can benefit your library or community space? Are you seeking ways to stay connected to your communities? Book a demo and read what our partners are saying about us. 

 


How Do Communities Stay Connected When COVID Forces Us Apart?

Public spaces bring people together. Both urban and rural communities share a commonality–the collective use of shared spaces available to all members of the community. Public spaces like community centers, parks, and libraries are staple gathering places in every community. Other communal spaces like co-working co-ops and coffee shops bring people together, too. 

When the coronavirus began to sweep across the country, once-bustling spaces became vacant. An eerie depiction of the effects the virus was having on our communities. State-wide shut-down orders were in place. Schools closed and moved to an online learning model. Many workers quickly adapted to remote work. Businesses closed or did curbside pick-up only. Families hunkered down trying to navigate the new reality that was quickly thrust upon us. 

Social distancing is hard when humans are wired for connection. 

Studies have proven that social connection is a pillar to our health. There is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected have many psychological and physical benefits such as:

  • Decreased depressive symptoms
  • Mitigated PTSD symptoms
  • Improved overall mental health
  • Healthy body mass index
  • Healthy blood sugar levels
  • Improved cancer survival rates
  • Decreased cardiovascular mortality

Social isolation has a negative effect on health and can increase depressive symptoms as well as mortality.

Community spaces provide the opportunity for social connections.

Social connections can help us reduce stress, which can keep us healthier. Our libraries, parks and other gathering places do so much to enrich our lives and even improve our health. We need them now, as much as ever. A recent study reports that Americans (and likely people everywhere) are experiencing a significant and sustained increase in depression and anxiety symptoms related to COVID. 

How can community spaces continue to bring people together and provide value in the new COVID world?

Businesses, community spaces, and libraries alike are thinking of ways to adapt to the new normal. How can we stay connected to our customers, patrons, and community, while also practicing safe social distancing? 

There’s no playbook for navigating a pandemic in the modern world. We’re just trying to make our way into the unknown as best we can. The internet gives us the ability to stay connected even when we can’t be physically together. When libraries and other public spaces provide free WiFi, it’s a lifeline for many members of the community.

Bringing people together–online and outside.

Online and outdoor activities (with social distancing measures in place) are a safe way to stay connected. As we enter into the next phase and recognize our need for social connection and support, there are some safe ways we can come together.

Businesses are getting creative with their operations so they can continue to serve customers. Many implemented online ordering and curbside pick-up to ensure a safe experience for employees and customers. As some places begin to reopen, they still offer online ordering and curbside pick-up which helps them get business while reducing the number of people in the physical store. 

Coffee shops add outside seating, appropriately spaced for social distancing, and offer online ordering and curbside pick-up. Coworking spaces are requiring social distancing while ensuring proper sterilization between shifts. 

Outdoor parks have been a go-to activity since they provide an outdoor space that allows for safe social distancing. Outside spaces are great for relaxation, exercise, picnics, and even movies. 

Community centers can offer classes outdoors to maintain safe social distancing. Gardening, crafting, or take-home craft pick-up would be a great idea. 

Public libraries provide immense value to the community through education, resources, programs, and advocacy. They were quick to adapt their services to meet safety precautions–offering online library card registration, curbside pick-up for books, crafts and STEM projects, free ‘drive-in’ WiFi, online storytimes and curbside pick-up for other essential services (unemployment forms, PPE, food, diapers, etc).

Businesses and community spaces recognize the need to stay connected to their customers and patrons. It’s beneficial for the business and for the individual. If you’d like to learn more about how WiFi analytics can help you better understand your customers or patrons, book a demo with our team or contact us to chat. 


The New Normal of Remote Work

Everyone has probably heard the phrase ‘the new normal’ since the COVID-19 outbreak. Every aspect of our lives has changed. At the front and center of this new normal is remote work. We’ve kept businesses running by creatively serving customers and clients while ensuring people are safe while working. From the breakdown of old structures emerges a new way of navigating life–a new normal. 

A seismic shift in work and home life

Our work and home life quickly became intertwined. Many people started working from home for the first time, and rather abruptly, to ensure social distancing measures are followed. Schools and child care facilities closed and classrooms moved online. This means working parents were doing double duty to fulfill their job and homeschool and care for their kids. 

The pandemic has created new stressors for all of us. But many workers report feeling reduced stress for work-related things associated with going to an office. Typical workday routines like getting ready and out the door (add even more stress if you have to worry about getting kids ready and out the door, too) and a commute have been eliminated by working at home. This means we can spend less time getting ready for the office and have more time for ourselves. What could you do with an extra 5-10 hours a week? 

On the other hand, there are challenges with working at home, especially if there are kids in the house all the time. But people are making it work by being flexible and adjusting expectations. That has to happen in this new normal. The workday and workflow won’t look like it did at the office because we’re not at the office. Leaders and teams are getting used to this and finding that staying connected virtually is also important. 

Rumblings were occurring before the pandemic

Even before the pandemic, remote work was on the rise, with more than one-third of the U.S population doing remote work. In the absence of the office culture, workers have started to migrate to remote working spaces to combat loneliness and create connections. In the middle of a pandemic, though, this isn’t an option. Workers simultaneously crave office culture while enjoying the benefits of remote work. As states ease shelter-in-place restrictions, and office workers ease back into the office, everyone is considering how to navigate this new normal.

How can public libraries help remote workers?

Public libraries have a lot to offer to the remote work community. Freelancers, contractors, or small offices that don’t have a physical office and would like to meet in person occasionally, could all benefit from frequenting the library. The library provides private workrooms for individuals and groups to use. The system is similar to checking out a book, simply reserve the room or show up and request one once it’s available. And there are plenty of desks and chairs scattered around the library for patrons to use for remote work. Stopping by your favorite coffee shop in the morning before heading to the library to work sounds like a nice change of pace for remote workers. Sometimes a change of scenery or just being around other like-minded people can inspire creativity and boost productivity.

As libraries begin to navigate the next phase of COVID-19, they could consider this opportunity to serve the community. With proper social distancing and disinfecting practices in place, remote work at the public library would further solidify the community’s need for libraries. 

Usings WiFi insights provided by our Library Edition would help libraries prove the effectiveness of remote work initiatives.  If you’re curious to learn more about how this works, schedule a demo with our team. 


Navigating The Next Phase of COVID-19 Library Service

It’s now officially summer, and we’re approaching nearly three months since statewide shutdowns were in place. The impact on daily life certainly has been jarring. For many families and individuals, the public library is a mainstay in our lives. Visiting our local library was part of a regular routine. While nothing can replace the real-world library experience, libraries have done an excellent job adapting to continue to serve communities. Creative ideas keep communities connected–like offering “drive-in WiFi”, expanding digital access, moving adult and children’s programming to an online format, and offering all kinds of digital resources. Now, libraries begin to navigate into the next phase of COVID-19 library services. 

As some states ease the shelter-in-place restrictions and businesses re-open (with social distancing guidelines in place) what does this mean for libraries and the communities they serve?  

The library is a summertime staple for many families who come for the children’s programming, storytime, kid’s events, or just a safe place to play on a hot day. And, public libraries are an important support system for individuals experiencing unemployment or homelessness, which has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 outbreak. Free WiFi and access to computers and other services help patrons apply for benefits and seek employment. 

There are certainly many things for libraries to consider when re-opening and navigate the next phase of COVID-19 library services. This will look different for every library depending on the severity of the virus’s local impact on that location and specifics about each library and community. The library’s role in the community is just as important, arguably more, as it was pre-pandemic. But the way in which it functions within this new environment will change. We hope that insight gained from WiFi analytics can guide the direction.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Public Library WiFi 

The WhoFi team released a series of blogs outlining the effects of COVID-19 on public library WiFi use. We analyzed data from our library partners to understand the effects and to determine how, or if, the spread of COVID-19 affected public library WiFi usage and patron behavior. We found that patron use of library WiFi did decline, but this is expected when a building closes. The interesting thing is that WiFi analytics is showing the continued use of library public WiFi despite the closure. This is in part due to the library’s efforts to continue and expand services. It also highlights the library’s essential role within the community and the value of extended COVID-19 library services. Libraries can use data to assess patron behavior amid COVID-19 and determine how to best help them and advocate for themselves.

Here are the highlights of what we learned: 

  • There was a correlation between key events related to COVID-19 and decreased WiFi use which provides an interesting insight into patrons’ behavior. 
  • Patron WiFi use did decrease, but only by 67% at the end of March.
  • Even after the ALA officially recommended closing libraries to the public, patrons were accessing the WiFi which both illustrates the value of this service and the community need.
  • Our data shows that library WiFi use in both urban and rural populations showed a decrease, but urban areas had a much greater drop, perhaps reinforcing the reality of the digital divide. 
  • The data shows continued use of the library WiFi which validates the importance of this service.

Libraries can use WiFi insights to learn how patrons are feeling as we move into the next phase of COVID-19 library services.

These insights can provide answers to questions like: Are patrons continuing to use drive-in WiFi and at what rates? How does patron visit time compare to pre-pandemic visit times? Are there new users and how many? Are returning visitors coming back at the same rate as before?  Are we continuing to meet the WiFi needs of our community? After a few months of insight gathering, what is our new normal benchmark? These are just some of the questions that can be answered by using WiFi insights. 

One thing remains true, the community needs its library, and the library needs its community. 

Libraries can use WiFi insights to make data-influenced decisions. They can guide protocol on how to best serve the community as we enter into summer and whatever lies ahead. We don’t know when things will be back to pre-COVID life. But one thing is for sure, our libraries will continue to adapt to the ever-changing reality and provide a sense of certainty and security in an uncertain world.


Urban and Rural Comparison Analysis: Effects of COVID-19 on Public Library WiFi Use

As we set out to gather data on the library WiFi usage numbers amid the COVID-19 health crisis, we analyzed the effects of COVID-19 on public library WiFi use in urban and rural areas. We wanted to know the effects of COVID-19 on public library WiFi use by population size. For this comparison, we consolidated data from our library partners to identify trends in service areas based on population size. We want to know if library WiFi usage changed by population size and if so by how much. Did changes mirror the national data and timeline? The purpose of urban vs. rural comparison is to see if population size made a difference in WiFi usage. 

Our data shows that library WiFi use in both urban and rural populations showed a decrease, but urban areas had a much greater drop. 

US Public Library WiFi Visitors Weekly Change by Population
Population Range Week of March 22nd-28th Week of March 29th-Apr 4th
1 - 2,500 -49.00% -46.65%
2,501 - 7,500 -60.38% -62.20%
7,501 - 15,000 -69.25% -67.92%
15,001 - 100,000 -71.46% -71.78%
100,001 - 1,000,000 -81.87% -81.81%
National Average -67.02% -66.66%

 

Rural areas did show a decrease in WiFi use, however, the decrease wasn’t as dramatic as in urban areas. The percentage of decrease correlates with the population size. The chart above shows that the larger the population, the greater the decrease in WiFi use. 

Library Service Area Size and Patron WiFi Needs

It is difficult to determine exactly why the data shows a difference in the effects of COVID-19 on public library wifi use by population size. From conversations, we’ve heard that a variety of social, cultural, and economic factors contribute to these numbers. Variables such as transportation, other means of accessing the internet, climate, and when local governments declared shelter-in-place orders influence these numbers. Another variable could be when and if libraries moved routers closer to windows to make drive-in WiFi access easier. Librarians in respective service areas can use this data. These numbers combined with local knowledge can shine a light on the community needs which can influence advocacy and funding. For more information about our data related to COVID-19 and WiFi use, check out our previous blogs.