Public Libraries Continue To Serve Communities While Closed to The Public

The ALA executive board recommends closing public libraries to the public. This message comes as many cities enforce closings for public places to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus. This public health crisis further illuminates the digital divide and the need for equal access to information. While our library customers are closing their physical location to protect the health of patrons and the entire community, many are choosing to make WiFi access available 24/7. WhoFi fully supports this and we encourage all of our library partners to establish this as best practice. 

Public libraries are doing great work to promote digital inclusion and can continue to do so by maintaining public WiFi service. Libraries are key partners in empowering members of our community to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

You can communicate to your service population that WiFi will still be available through email and social media. We know many patrons either lack access entirely or have limited access, so create signage to place on windows and doors that provide WiFi access information. Work with local governments to get the message to the community. Patrons can access WiFi while remaining in their car at any time of day while being in compliance with the CDC social distancing recommendations. Continue to run your WhoFi analytics software so your library can gather insights into patron WiFi usage during closings. The data gathered during this time will be beneficial for advocacy efforts in the future. 

Providing internet connection, especially during a public health crisis, is a critical utility. Equal access to information helps our community as a whole, and in today’s digital age we all depend on it. Yet 19 million Americans lack access to broadband internet, according to FCC reports. Other reports show 33 million Americans lack access. A Pew Research study found that internet access and adoption are tied to demographic variables such as age, education level, household income, and community type. Higher education is tied to increased access and use of the internet. People who live in rural areas are less likely to have internet access than their urban counterparts. 

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

  • Access or apply for benefits
  • Get information from or about local government
  • Do schoolwork or research for school
  • Access social media
  • Get health or medical information
  • Look for or apply for a job
  • 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
  • Create or post original media
  • Look for answers to computer problems
  • Arrange transportation
  • Research a new skill
  • Learning language (programs or watching videos)

We are committed to serving our public library partners during these uncertain times. We will all be working remotely for the coming weeks, and will still be available by phone or email should you have any questions or needs.

 

Ideas to help patrons use library free WiFi

  • If possible, place the wireless access points closer to the exterior windows to extend the reach of the WiFi signal.
  • Make signs to place in windows from the interior of the library with a message about accessing the WiFi network and password.
  • Make sings to place in windows with social distancing guidelines while accessing WiFi. These can include:
    • Remain in your car while using your device to access WiFi
    • Library staff can use tape or chalk to create ‘access stations’ where patrons can safely stand outside the library while accessing WiFi. New reports show that COVID-19 can travel more than 15 feet in a closed environment with air-conditioning. The CDC guidelines state persons should maintain a 6-foot distance. Make sure your markings allow enough distance between each access station. Post information about the guidelines and purpose of the access station on windows.