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Library launches mobile Wi-Fi hotspot rental program

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library launched a program this summer to lend mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to help the 19 percent of Charlotte residents who lack home Internet access.

The new pilot program currently offers 100 units, and within the first six weeks of the program, 90 percent were in circulation. The library hopes to expand the program. The program  fills a community need, said Frank Blair, director of technology operations for the library.

“We found out that 19 percent of our community doesn’t have access to internet at home,” Blair said. “For the library, 15 percent of our books are circulated in digital format. That means a million items next year will be circulated in digital format, and we can’t have 19 percent of our community not have access to those materials. So that was the initial driver, but it’s not just about library materials. It is also about making sure that people have access to all the materials on the Internet — whether it is health care or looking for work or reading a book for pleasure.”

Charlotte residents can visit any of the 20 branches to rent a Wi-Fi hotspot.  They need a library card and a form of payment. The hotspots rent for $14 per week, and can be extended to a total of three weeks. The current program is focused on adults who need access for home or business. Ten mobile devices can access the Internet from each hotspot. The library plans to expand to reach K-12 students in the fall.

The new hotspot program is a part of the library’s total digital strategy, said Seth Ervin, associate director of access and organizational initiatives for the library.

“We have had a really big year for our digital strategy,” Ervin said. “We have a new mobile responsive site that launched in September. We have a new more interactive catalog. We have piloted a mobile app for Apple devices that uses iBeacon technology. So we have had a lot of things in queue this year, and hotspots is just one more thing. We are not stopping, and we have several more projects in the horizon.”