At home, Stephanie Karolus doesn’t have Wi-Fi.
Instead, Karolus, 31, would rely on her mobile phone’s hotspot to upload work, stream and call her family.
“When I discovered that the library system had the WiFi2Go, I was pretty excited,” Karolus, the director of Christian education at First Lutheran Church, said.
The Alachua County Library District launched WiFi2Go, a program allowing Alachua County residents to borrow mobile hotspots for seven days, in April. The hotspots have been checked out 1,417 times since its beginning through Sept. 9, Rachel Cook, ACLD’s public relations and marketing manager, wrote in an email.
The program started with 100 devices, but the demand prompted ACLD to double the number of hotspots to 200, Cook said. The second set became available on Aug. 23.
Karolus tries to borrow a device on a weekly basis. In the past, she said she’d wait up to four days to receive a replacement hotspot. However, since the number has increased, she’s been able to renew her current one.
“It makes when I FaceTime or talk with family a little bit easier,” she said.
Each hotspot connects up to five devices and does not have data limits, according to the WiFi2Go website. Alachua County residents can check out one hotspot per library card and are eligible as long as they are in good standing, meaning they have no more than $50 in charges or five overdue items.
WiFi2Go devices can be found at all 12 district branches. If a hotspot isn’t available, Cook said residents can put one on hold and will be notified when it’s ready for pick up.
The program launched with the support of the Alachua County Library District Foundation, a nonprofit that supports library projects and provides supplemental funding, Cook said. The foundation donated the money for both hotspot sets, which cost $36,000 each.
In total, the foundation contributed $72,000, Hunt Davis, a board member of the ACLD Foundation, said. Because WiFi2Go fits its overall objectives and mission of enriching lives, the foundation supported the program.
“These WiFi2Go kits should be around for quite a long time,” he said. “Each individual kit can be loaned to many, many people.”
Davis sees the service as both desired and needed.
“It doesn’t solve the digital divide problem, but it addresses it,” he said.
Shaney T. Livingston, ACLD’s library director, said the library district wants every Alachua County resident to have access to the internet. The mobile hotspots provide this from the comfort of their homes.
“We look at the quality internet service as a necessity and not a luxury,” Livingston said.
Increasing the number of hotspots gives the community greater access, she said. Depending on the data and demand, she said ACLD might add more devices going forward.
“We want to be part of the team that’s helping to connect people and close the digital divide,” Livingston said.
Bridging the digital divide, which is the gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, continues to be a priority of the library district, Cook said. ACLD also offers free Wi-Fi and public computer access at all of its locations.
“This is taking it kind of to that next level where it’s going beyond our buildings, too, which is really exciting for us,” she said.
WiFi2Go benefits a variety of people, Cook said, including those who don’t have internet at home or lack sufficient service.
“I’ve heard from everyone: from someone who worked at UF to a local busy mom to a college student, who are all using them,” Cook said. “So, I think that there is a big demand for this service, and it appeals to a lot of different patrons.”
Going forward, the library district will continue to look at the needs of the community and the popularity of the additional hotspots, Cook said. As of now, they are still getting the word out about the program.
“Libraries have offered books forever, but we’ve really only offered this new service since April,” she said. “I think that as more people find out about it, it will become more and more popular.”