At the May meeting of the Montana State Library Commission, funds were allocated to purchase hot spots and cellular service to increase the availability of hotspots that can be loaned to library patrons throughout Montana. All libraries will receive two hotspots to place into circulation and 10 libraries will be selected, based upon need, to receive additional hotspots. The hotspots will be fully funded with a cellular plan. The hotspots are part of a pilot project to explore how these devices are used by Montanans to access critical services and support economic development activities.
The Valier Public Library will lend the hotspots to patrons for use at home. The hotspots will also be used to support community organizations with Internet access.
Director Cathy Brandvold states, “We are very excited to offer hotspots to our patrons. Folks who depend on us for copies, faxes, and computers were unable to accomplish these tasks during the shutdown. Hotspots will easily make most of these tasks available from home.”
For more information about the hotspot program, contact: Valier Public Library at 279-3366 or stop in at 400 Teton Ave., in Valier.
This program is the result of data collected over the past year regarding the increasing role that public libraries play in their communities in providing access to the Internet, and the lack of access to broadband in so much of Montana.
According to Broadband-Now (August 2018), Montana has the worst broadband coverage and the worst average Internet speed of all US States. Most job applications require at least a portion of the process be done online, and businesses, ranchers and farmers must file reports online as well, so economic prosperity depends upon access.
Libraries can help to fill this gap for the most needy and least served Montanans with this program.
According to the 2020 study on The State of Broadband Connectivity and Related IT Infrastructure in Montana’s Public Libraries, one quarter of public libraries in Montana are the sole source of free Internet access in their respective communities.
During the COVID-19 crisis response, the need for making Internet access mobile in communities has become even more pressing. As library buildings were shuttered across the Treasure State in March and April, those that depend on WiFi at their public library were left without access for their suddenly growing critical needs: distance learning for children, applying for unemployment benefits, seeking telemedicine options, and ordering necessities for home delivery, to name a few.
Montana State Librarian, Jennie Stapp said, “By providing mobile hot spots to libraries, and through the pilot study, we hope to expand access now, and learn more about the impacts of offering cellular-data devices to Montana’s library patrons so that we can best support Montanans to thrive.”