About 18 months ago, we sent out a survey about the library asking questions of students, faculty and staff in advance of writing our strategic plan. One of the questions asked if students had internet access at home to which 6% answered, "No." It alarmed me to think that some of our students were unable to access the SPC web site and services or do a large part of their school work from home. Our campus is not open 24/7, and even if it were, no one wants to have to spend all their outside-of-class time on campus and away from home, especially if they have a family or pets.
I searched the internet for information on hotspots in libraries and discovered a company called Mobile Beacon who has partnered with Tech Soup in order to give non-profits a discounted way to purchase mobile hotspots and provide internet access via the Sprint Network. We could apply and get up to 11 for $9.99 each (though the first one was free!) and $120/year for internet access wherever Sprint 4G is available. I presented the idea to my supervisor and we went back and forth for about a year answering all his questions and alleviating all of Technology Services' concerns with gracious help from Saint Paul Public Library's Jill Boldenow, who has since moved on to become the director of Ramsey County Libraries. Thanks, Jill!!! Also, many thanks to both Mobile Beacon and Tech Soup for coming up with this excellent, philanthropic partnership!!!
Finally an order was placed and the first hotspots arrived. We tested the devices out around the metro and only found one dead zone, so we were ready to catalog and offer them up for checkout. Immediately they were in high demand and they stay checked out almost constantly. We began with 6 and hope to add five more soon.
The student responses are the most heartwarming part of the whole endeavor. One single mother of three no longer has to drag her kids to campus for hours while she studies. She was so excited to be able to do her school work at home that she told me, "You should get Librarian of the Year!" Just seeing her smiling and happy and both her and the children a little less stressed made it worth all the time and effort.