The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) is ending a wireless network hot spot lending pilot project after some of the kits were lost or damaged, according to a report to the library’s board.
The program began in June 2018 at six OPL locations, all in neighbourhoods where one in 10 households is without internet access: the Alta Vista, Rideau, Rosemount and St-Laurent branches, as well as the Caldwell and Lincoln Heights bookmobile stops.
Initially, the library partnered with agencies to identify individuals who might benefit from the program.
But, due to the low number of referrals — 19 — the program was extended to anyone who self-declared as someone without home internet.
Those who did, could borrow one of 72 kits, which consisted of a Wi-Fi hot spot and a Chromebook, for three months.
“The pilot was regarded as a means to reduce the digital divide in Ottawa by providing access to the internet to customers who were without such access for various socio-economic reasons,” according to the report.
While opening up the program to anyone generated more interest, it also presented challenges.
Library staff were unable to validate whether individuals had internet service at home: the primary target users of the project.
Also, 13 of the 72 kits were either lost of damaged.
“In light of the challenges experienced during the pilot (loss rate, theft, etc.) and the high cost of [operating] the program beyond a limited number of locations, staff concluded that direct lending to customers who self-declare not having internet at home was not the best approach to meeting the original goal,” according to the report.
Despite the challenges, the program received positive feedback from users.
Of the 30 patrons who completed a survey about their experience with the program, many were “very appreciative.”
One individual reported achieving “an employment-related goal” because of the hot spot kit, according to the report.
The project ended on March 31 and the kits that remained were recalled.
Now, OPL is looking for ways to put these kits to use, and is considering partnering with homework clubs across the city to lend them to students who don’t have internet at home.
According to OPL spokesperson, Monique Brûlé, lending to homework clubs is still at the exploratory stage.
“We are aware that there are added requirements for students to complete online credits our sense is that to lend the Wi-Fi devices would help in meeting that requirement,” said Brûlé in a phone call interview.
The OPL Board received the report at its meeting on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a real opportunity to expand the library’s reach and to provide internet service to people that can’t afford it,” said Orleans Councillor, Mathew Luloff.