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Seattle Public Library Loans Out WiFi Hot Spots

Flickr Photo/Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Users with computers inside the Seattle Public Library's main branch.

The Seattle Public Library is about to make the Internet as lendable as everything else in its collection.

It's the next step in the library's reinvention. A grant from Google means the Seattle Public Library will begin lending Wi-Fi hotspots to library patrons. By the summer it will also lend laptop computers packaged with wifi. 

Like everything else at the library, hotspots and laptops can be borrowed for up to three weeks and that can be renewed. The penalty for keeping the technology past the due date is 25 cents a day - and the devices mysteriously stop working.

The technology cannot be just taken off a shelf. Patrons must reserve it so it can be delivered to their branch and lent to them. 

Google and the Seattle Public Library said the project is an effort to close down the "digital divide" - the opportunity gap between people who have no or slow access to the internet and those who can easily connect. 

A studylast year found that 15 percent of households in Seattle don’t have Internet at home, and lower-income residents often have slower speed or dial-up access. That makes it tough to apply for jobs, pay bills or do homework. 

This is just the kind of opportunity gap that libraries have always been there to bridge, said Darcy Nothnagle, a spokesman for Google.

“Libraries are really at the forefront of figuring out new ways to bring information and technology and access to people,” Nothnagle said.