With many schools, universities, and businesses closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, students and workers are finding themselves needing to take classes or do their jobs from home—putting the millions of Americans who lack in-home internet access in a challenging position. Thankfully, many libraries have found ways to provide web access to their communities, even after closing their doors to the public.
Libraries including Marathon County Public Library in rural Wisconsin and Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio have maintained strong Wi-Fi access outside their buildings so that people can bring their laptops and smartphones and connect to the internet. Residents can sit in their cars or stand nearby, as long as they stand more than six feet away from passersby.
“People depend on our libraries for access to a number of services, including free wireless internet, that they might not otherwise have,” said Angela Craig, executive director of Charleston County Public Library, told WCBD News. “Especially while children are asked to work on schoolwork from home, it’s vital that we keep doing everything in our power to provide for everyone in our community during these challenging times, including those without access.”
In addition to offering free Wi-Fi in their own parking lot, Leominster Public Library in Massachusetts has installed mobile hotspots at the local Senior Center and Veterans’ Center so even more locals can take advantage of online resources. “We thought we could put them to good use, so the whole community could use them,” Library Director Sondra Murphy told Telegram & Gazette. “Right now there are a lot of children and families that do not have access to the internet, and there are so many virtual resources being passed around.”
Library leaders are collaborating closely with government and health officials to ensure alignment with local, state and federal guidelines related to public gatherings, including on library grounds. Health and safety concerns remain paramount, and services may shift in response to changing directives.
The American Library Association has recommended libraries leave their Wi-Fi on during closures when possible and in accordance with health guidelines related to shelter in place and social distancing. To see if your local library has public Wi-Fi access available, call or visit their website.
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