Hot Spots Help Span the Digital Divide

Loaned Devices Offer Patrons Ways to Reconnect

King County Library System knows that relationships, connections and access are essential to its patrons.

So KCLS sought and received grant funding to make sure that patrons without reliable internet access could move online with digital hot spots.

“My hot spot has been a godsend, a lifesaver,” said Kaye B., a resident at a senior housing facility in Kent, holding the portable, palm-sized device.

“Like a lot of people, I felt isolated. Life was awful,” she said. “I did not have connection to the internet. I was pulling my hair out before this program!”

KCLS has delivered Wi-Fi hot spots to 304 locations in the Library System’s service area, serving 4,560 people. The hot spots are funded by two grants awarded to the KCLS Foundation (KCLSF). The King County Office of Equity and Social Justice awarded a Digital Equity for Adults with Barriers to Access and Services grant ($46,000) and a COVID-19 Community Response Fund grant ($20,000). Funding includes one year of an unlimited data plan for each hot spot, and KCLS hopes to continue and expand the program.

The Library System is using this Digital Bridge funding to provide hot spots as well as laptops and teleconferencing technology to help at-risk populations most affected by the pandemic. Hot spot recipients include students; residents of low-income senior housing facilities; people experiencing homelessness and immigrants interested in entrepreneurship.

For seniors, the Wi-Fi hot spots restored communication, ending a sense of social isolation that was especially acute during the pandemic. For others, the hot spots not only have opened up access to information, but to educational and business opportunities. For all patrons, the devices provide speed and reliability, decreasing frustration and removing yet another technology barrier.

Kaye B. said her hot spot not only made possible information access and online banking, medical appointments and shopping, but has allowed her to connect with friends and family members. It also has helped her pursue her interest in volunteering for Homage Senior Companion Program, a nonprofit program with the Volunteers of America. She now connects with her clients, providing companionship as well as respite care for caregivers, and takes the hot spot with her to look up information for them.

Wendy P., KCLS’ Older Adults Coordinator, has followed up with hot spot recipients, offering online meetings for those who want to discuss technology issues or simply chat with each other.

“I appreciate this program being available to us folks that might not otherwise have access to the internet,” said Mark U., a senior housing resident. “It makes us older citizens feel less invisible when we can do stuff online and have the Wi-Fi equipment for free.”

Patrons express gratitude not only for the hot spot devices, but for KCLS’ overall efforts to narrow the digital divide.

As Mark U. put it: “This is a good program! I’m grateful for all KCLS has done. It is a real bonus for me, and I hope they can keep doing this!”