Providing Free WiFi In Public Libraries Improves Communities

Internet access is considered a platform in which an individual can access the tools and skills necessary to improve their lives, participate in the economy, and access government. The possibility 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. In this information and digital age, access to this digital economy is key for a person to survive and thrive. Yet millions of Americans lack internet access. This fact is a key reason why it’s important that public libraries provide free WiFi to communities.

The public library’s role is to bridge the digital divide and create strong economies, communities.

Libraries have always played a critical role in giving citizens access to information. Intellectual freedom is a core concept and value of public libraries. In the age of information, libraries play a critical role in the community by providing access to online information.

Libraries are a smart investment.

People who use library WiFi as their primary source of internet rely on it for personal and professional reasons including: 

  • Access or apply for government benefits
  • Get information from or about local government
  • Do school work for homeschooling curriculums or online learning platforms (per necessity in a recent pandemic)
  • Apply to college or trade schools
  • Apply for education financial aid
  • Take online courses
  • Search for jobs
  • Complete online job applications
  • Create an online resume 
  • Correspond with potential employers and hiring managers during the interview and hiring process
  • Complete employment exams
  • Take online job training courses
  • Access social media
  • Get health or medical information
  • Communicate with their medical team through secure medical portals: pay bills, schedule appointments, ask questions, and get answers. 
  • Attend an online class, meeting, or webinar
  • Find legal or consumer rights information
  • Stay in touch with friends or family
  • Read or send email
  • Research and buy a product
  • Use online banking services or pay bills
  • Participate in the eCommerce community as a buyer or seller
  • Create or post original media
  • Look for answers to computer problems
  • Arrange transportation
  • Research a new skill
  • Learning language (programs or watching videos)

In short, residents without Internet access are at a huge disadvantage. Libraries have accepted the challenge of providing internet access within their buildings to narrow the digital divide. Public access computers and Wi-Fi offered in library locations is the first line of assistance to the community. 

Local businesses, governments, and individuals benefit from internet access

Hudson Institute released “The Economic Impact of Rural Broadbandreport. From that, here are ways individuals and businesses are actually impacted by internet access and how that contributes to local economic growth. For the purposes of this blog, we assume individuals are accessing the internet provided by the library and this is their primary or only source of internet. 

  • Brings local business to the global market with online eCommerce and social media sites like Shopify, eBay, Etsy, Pinterest, and Facebook marketplace, as well as a host of websites and blogging platforms. 
  • Connect to global businesses. If someone lives hours away from the nearest big box store or needs to order materials, this can easily be done using free library WiFi.
  • Educational opportunities from homeschool to a college education. People who live hours from campus can complete courses online. Nearly 1 in 5 teens can’t finish homework because of lack of internet 
  • Health care and telemedicine. Patients can view online medical records, make payments, schedule appointments, and email or chat through a secure medical portal. 
  • Enhance a sense of well-being and stay connected with family and friends through communications made possible by internet access. 
  • As many newspapers move to a digital model, people can stay updated with local, national, and global news. 
  • Increases opportunities for remote work and patrons can use library WiFi and space as a remote workstation. 
  • Improves economic and education outcomes for area youth with access to online learning and skill improvements. Combined with the skill classes provided by the library, anyone can do anything. 
  • Farmers and ranchers can conduct business online and have an easier time bringing their products to market and complying with regulations. 
  • Access e-government services like paying taxes, applying for Medicare or Medicaid, or disaster relief.

With institutional power and data to back up advocacy efforts, public libraries are well equipped to fulfill the role of an internet provider for many communities.  By investing in libraries and free public WiFi, communities can embrace the human capital theory to create stronger local economies and connected communities. Internet access is important for basic services, education, and employment. Above all, it gives people the ability to improve their personal station and by doing so contributes to community wellness.

WhoFi provides libraries with wireless session counts, for advocacy, operational improvements related to the patron experience, and for the annual PLS and state surveys. To learn more about how libraries can use WiFi insights to improve patron services, schedule a demo to see how it all works.