Wireless internet to go will be the latest menu item available at Jackson County libraries, joining books, audiobooks, music CDs, movies and other materials already available for checkout.
Jackson County Library System is launching JCLS Connect, a program that will allow library cardholders to check out mobile hotspot devices, which provide internet for wireless devices. Starting Jan. 16, library patrons can reserve or check them out for two-week periods, during which they'll have access to five gigabytes of mobile data to use however they choose.
"Sometimes people need to be online for longer than our limits allow in the library," said Eric Molinsky, Digital Services supervisor. "We're hoping it can help people take that step forward into the digital age (who) maybe haven’t yet, or have been unable to."
Libraries across the nation are increasing their focus on digital offerings. Molinsky said it corresponds with JCLS's mission, which states a goal to "create new opportunities to meet the changing needs of our community."
The need for internet access continues to expand into more facets of daily life, from job applications to homework. Molinsky said JCLS based its approach to the hotspot program partly on how other libraries have rolled them out, including Seattle and New York City.
The structure of Seattle's program is similar to the upcoming JCLS program: mobile hotspots with a limited data amount and checkout time. It started in Seattle in 2015 with 150 devices. By last February, that number had jumped to 825 devices.
Molinsky said JCLS plans to start with 100 units. While Seattle's program was funded by a $250,000 grant from Google, Assistant Library Director Susan Bloom said the Jackson County Library Services board approved the $40,000 cost for the program's first year from its regular budget.
As with other library materials, there will be replacement or repair costs if the devices are damaged, destroyed or lost. Molinsky estimated the cost to replace a device would be around $199.
Molinsky and Bloom said the library district has had to carefully determine the needs of each library based on the size of the town or city it serves. Rural areas need different hotspots than urban areas to provide strong internet connections, due to differences in internet infrastructure.
"We’re consistently trying to update our virtual library and enable people to access information on our website," Bloom said. "I’m always put in my place by our rural librarians who say, 'That’s great, but the best way for here is to put a poster in the grocery store.' Because most people don’t have the ability to provide internet. Not everybody has that opportunity."
JCLS Connect aims to give more library users the opportunity to have internet access outside of library hours, Molinsky said.
"What we really hope is people can use it to be successful in whatever aspect of their lives that they need it for," he said.
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.