With the world more reliant on high-speed broadband for all aspects of life, public libraries are filling that technology void by offering free, 24/7 access to WiFi, as well as the skills and devices needed to use it.
Bethlehem Public Library offers free internet access not only at the library, but also at Elm Avenue Park, Bethlehem Town Pool, Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, Colonial Acres Park, and the Town Hall parking lot/playground. Voorheesville Public Library lends laptop packs and WiFi hotspots to seniors, allowing them to file their taxes from home. Meanwhile, the Crandall Library in Glens Falls has partnered with the Warren County Employment and Training Administration to loan laptops, tablets, and WiFi hotspots to community members in hopes of augmenting workforce development. Additionally, Corinth Free Library plans to install a solar-powered bus stop in front of its building equipped with seating and USB charging outlets, enabling patrons to access the library’s free broadband when the library is closed.
“When you talk about digital divide, there are so many aspects to it,” said Evelyn Neale, director of the William K. Sanford Library in the Town of Colonie. “There’s the access to the equipment and the connectivity, but there’s also access to the skill set and the ability to be able to do the things that you need to do digitally, such as fill out a job application and get healthcare, unemployment and housing.”
Toward that end, the William K. Sanford Library offers robust tech training for community members. This includes Launchpads for kids and teens that enable them to develop digital skills, and devices for patrons with hearing impairment to help them access library programs. Teen volunteers also conduct one-on-one digital training sessions with seniors, who comprise 33 percent of the town’s population. Further, multiple special needs communities receive access to the library’s computers on a daily basis for occupational therapy.
“People often think public libraries are just about books, but they offer so much more than that,” said Kathleen Gundrum, executive director of the Capital District Library Council, noting that with 50 percent of Americans changing careers post pandemic (2021 Harris Poll), libraries are the place to go to access employment portals, learn in-demand skills and receive one-to-one technology support from skilled librarians. “They have all the tools, people and resources residents need to live a better life.”
To find out what your library offers, visit yourlibrary.org and locate your library system by county.