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April 24, 2020

Libraries are helping bridge the digital divide during COVID-19

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It’s National Library Week, and though many libraries are closed due to COVID-19, they continue to work to serve their clients and keep them connected to the larger world. To mark the week and honor the incredibly critical role libraries are playing every day both during this crisis and during more normal times, we’re sharing a post from Jill Joplin, Executive Director of the DeKalb County Library Foundation. The DCLF provides support beyond tax dollars to DeKalb County Public Library in Georgia and DCPL is just one of Google Fiber’s many library partners across the country working to help connect their communities during this time. For example, in San Antonio, we’ve partnered with Libraries without Borders to bring their Wash & Learn Initiative to local laundromats—and right now the WiFi has been extended to the parking lots so people can get online from the safety of their cars. In Nashville, Salt Lake City, Austin and other cities we have provided longtime support for Digital Inclusion Fellows and digital literacy support at public libraries.

At DeKalb County Public Library (DCPL), the Take the Internet Home with You initiative is one of the library’s most popular services and in today’s current COVID-19 environment, it is also one of the most valuable. Normally, patrons are able to check-out a WiFi hotspot for 21 days, and the devices are constantly checked out. Patrons wait by the front desk or call the library each day looking for returned hotspots. Our user data reveals more than 50% of patrons who check out these devices do not have access to the internet in their home.


Two of our regular patrons, who check out the devices as often as they can, were able to check out a device prior to the library’s closure due to COVID-19. The library is allowing patrons with the devices to keep them during the entirety of the closure and no late fines are being assessed. We checked in with them to see how they were using their devices. Joan is a retiree without home internet. She is very grateful to be able to keep the device she checked out during the library’s closure. She is staying in touch with her family and up to date with news and updates related to COVID-19. 

Our other patron, William, says what he once considered a pleasure — the ability to get online at home — is now a blessing. He has been able to file his unemployment paperwork online because he also had checked out a hotspot prior to the library closing. He also is keeping in touch with friends and enjoying streaming movies he wouldn’t be able to see without cable or an internet connection in his home. 

Although to many of us it seems like the entire world is virtually connected, in reality, 10% of Americans don’t have access to the Internet — that number goes up to 30% for low-income Americans. Staff at DeKalb County Public Library realized a few years ago that patrons were accessing the library’s WiFi signal during times the library was closed by sitting in the parking lot or on the steps of the building. Once we’d identified this need, DCPL began seeking funding to provide mobile hotspot devices for check out. 

Thanks to our partners at Google Fiber, Mailchimp, and New York Life, DCPL has been able to provide 200 hotspots to patrons across the library system. The library would not be able to offer this service without this funding from our partners.  While demand was always high for this initiative, with the economic impact of COVID-19, we anticipate it will be even more important in the future. We are proud we can support our patrons with this essential service. 

Posted by Jill Joplin, Executive Director,
DeKalb County Library Foundation