TAKE THE INTERNET HOME WITH YOU INITIATIVE
We have always known there are many citizens in DeKalb with no access to the internet in their homes. During pre-pandemic times, DeKalb County Public Library patrons typically logged 1,500,000+ sessions on the system's internet access and WiFi combined within the libraries each year. Most of our library’s computer labs were filled to capacity all day every day. During weekends when most of the buildings were closed, patrons would sit in the parking lots to access the WiFi. The Take the Internet Home with You initiative was launched in 2017 as an effort to bridge the digital divide for citizens who may not have home internet access. Hotspots are portable, rechargeable devices that allow patrons to connect to the internet at no charge to them for 21 days.
The COVID-19 global pandemic exposed just how wide the digital divide is in our county. According to the US Census Bureau's COVID-19 Impact Planning Report, 16.9% of DeKalb County citizens do not have home internet. And, data from censushardtocountmaps2020.us indicates there are many areas in DeKalb County where this figure is as high as 30%.
When DCPL had to close its buildings in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, patrons who had checked out hotspots were told to keep the devices through the duration of the closure. We reached out to many patrons with devices, and they shared their appreciation for being able to connect to the news, family and friends, and file unemployment paperwork.
Joan is a retiree without home internet. She was very grateful to be able to keep the device she checked out during the library’s closure. She stayed in touch with her family and kept up to date with news and updates related to COVID-19.
William says what he once considered a pleasure — the ability to get online at home — is now a blessing. He was able to file his unemployment paperwork online. He also kept in touch with friends and enjoyed streaming movies he would not have been able to see without cable or an internet connection in his home.
Julie, a teacher, told us having the device allowed her to keep up with her students during the spring. For the five months she had the device, she saved money to purchase her own in August when she was called to bring the device back to the library.
Tamara used a hotspot to help her son connect with his teacher and school resources during quarantine. She added she did not know what she would have done without it.
Adrian said her apartment complex offers no internet connectivity or hook ups, so there is no way to get internet. Her partner was able to do his work at home with the device. She explained they typically rely on the library’s devices because they would turn a device in and then quickly find another in the system to check out.
Funding in 2020 allowed DCPL to add 11 hotspots to the collection. This will increase the number of patrons who will have the opportunity to check out a hotspot in 2021.
The year 2020 is one of great change and adjustment. Our generous donors have allowed DeKalb County Public Library to continue supporting the community in creative ways. One of our beloved librarians, Mia, a Youth Services Librarian at the Decatur Library, shares her story.
I am so grateful for all the Foundation funding has allowed me to do over the years from Book Bunches to Minigolf to the Summer Reading Program to sponsoring the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl team. During this pandemic year which is marked by uncertainty and change, the Foundation’s support has become one of the few constants I can depend on to create engaging programs. I have also learned the library acts as a stable presence for many in our community.
Alex, one of my teen patrons, recently told me, “With everything that’s happened in my life, the library has not only been a constant, but also a place where I felt welcome. And I’m so grateful for that. The book club, the Helen Ruffin Reading bowl, and all of the books I read in the children’s section are among the happiest memories of my life.”
In this year in which so many things are being cancelled, donations to the Foundation have allowed me to create new programs and activities which keep us connected to the community.
JEWELRY WITH GIN
Virginia Milner, a former banker who discovered a love for jewelry making, has taught jewelry making and sewing classes at DCPL for years. Virginia enjoys helping people develop a talent that they did not know they had. “So many people are unaware that they possess the ability to be artistically creative,” said Virginia. Prior to the pandemic Virginia would travel to different libraries to teach classes three to five times a week. In-person classes filled up quickly, sometimes within minutes because they were so popular, and class size was limited. Now that the classes are able to be held virtually, more patrons can benefit from the classes and they are recorded so participants can replay parts of the video as many times as necessary. “It’s almost like doing a private tutorial,” she notes. Patrons comment that her videos are everything from soothing, calming, and enjoyable to entertaining, hilarious, and lots of fun. And, they enjoy her frequently repeated catch phrase, “Tada!” Virginia often teaches classes using materials people can find around the house or reuses materials already purchased for a previous class, such as wire. The Foundation is now funding make and take kits patrons can pickup at their local library. This makes it easier for more people to participate and have their own “tada” moment.