Photo by Mark Gibson
Dave Karlson, left, site leader for Google in The Dalles, holds up a wi-fi hotspot device now available for checkout at The Dalles Wasco County Library as Darcy Nothnagle, Google’s head of external affairs, Northwest Region, answers questions during the program’s rollout Tuesday afternoon in The Dalles.
Patrons of The Dalles Wasco County Library can now check out mobile wi-fi “hotspots,” cellular-based units that allow the user to connect to the internet for free.
The program is the first of its kind in Oregon.
The lending program, which includes 45 devices in The Dalles and five in Maupin, was funded by a grant of approximately $33,000 from Google.
The devices can be checked out for three-week periods, and renewed if additional units remain available for other patrons.
A wi-fi hotspot is a device you can use to connect a mobile-enabled device, such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet, to the internet. The hotspot is portable, needing only to be in range of a cellular tower. A limited number of laptop computers will also be available for checkout.
“Google has bestowed a unique opportunity for learning on the library and the students of The Dalles,” said Mayor Steve Lawrence during a ceremony Tuesday afternoon at the library. “Libraries are where people come to learn.”
Household income is one of the major factors that hinder people from accessing the internet, said Dave Karlson, site leader for Google in The Dalles. “This will help close that digital divide,” he said.
“Having internet access isn’t just a luxury these days, it’s a necessity for school assignments, applying for jobs, and staying connected with the world,” said Darcy Nothnagle, Google’s head of external affairs, Northwest Region. “We hope this program will provide greater access and greater opportunity for the entire community.”
Google and the library hope this program will not only help increase access, but also critical digital literacy skills.
Over the last two years, Google has contributed approximately $200,000 in funding through several different grants for technology enhancements at the library, including upgrades to library computers, enhanced wi-fi and in support of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs.
In 2015, Google also provided an $87,880 grant for the Maupin Broadband Project to assist in bringing high speed broadband to the Maupin Community and establishing free public wi-fi at Maupin’s Riverfront Park and the Maupin Branch of the Wasco County Library District. That grant also connected the branch library to the main library in The Dalles and provides free internet on library computers.
“We’re excited to partner with Google to provide this new wi-fi hotspot program to our local patrons,” said Jeff Wavrunek, district librarian. “Google’s support has been key to enhancing our ability to assist patrons through technology and programs.”
Similar programs exist in New York, Chicago, Seattle and elsewhere. “We’re pretty tiny, we’re extremely happy we can do this,” said Wavrunek. “Google has been very supportive of the library.”
The hotpot comes in a zipped case, and can provide internet wi-fi for three or more computers. Each unit is password protected. Checkout time is three weeks, the same as most books, and the unit can be renewed if additional units are still available.
Sarajane Vemeister, director of financial aid for Columbia Gorge Community College, said the availability of WiFi for checkout would be a real boon for some of her students. “When I first heard about this, I was stoked. This will let so many people be more independent,” she said. The school has a high percentage of students receiving Pell grants, which means they are below the federal poverty guideline. “Many of them struggle to get internet access,” she said.
Jennifer Heredia of Oregon Child Development Center (OCDC) in The Dalles, which works with migrant and seasonal workers, was also enthusiastic.
“This is perfect for us,” she said. The center has many internet-based services and programs, but many of their clients do not have internet in their home, she said. The hotspots have instructions in both English and Spanish, she pointed out.
“This gives everyone access,” she said.