Library to end Wi-Fi loans after kits lost, damaged
13 of 72 Wi-Fi kits lost or damaged during 10-month pilot
The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) is ending a Wi-Fi hotspot-lending pilot project after more than a dozen of the kits were lost or damaged, according to a report to the library's board.
The lending 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.
Patrons who self-declared as having no internet at home could borrow one of 72 kits, which consisted of a Wi-Fi hotspot and a Chromebook, for a period of 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.
A slow start
Initially, the OPL relied on partner agencies to identify individuals who might benefit from the program. But due to a low number of referrals — just 19 — the offer was soon extended to any patron without home internet.
This generated more interest in the program, but it also brought challenges: Library staff were unable to validate whether individuals had internet service at home, jeopardizing the primary goal of the project.
As well, 13 of the 72 kits were either lost or 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.
It wasn't all bad news: Of the 30 patrons who completed a survey about their experience with the program, many were "very appreciative," including one individual who reported achieving "an employment-related goal via the hotspot kit," according to the report.
The pilot project came to an end on March 31, and all remaining kits were recalled.
The OPL is still looking for ways to make the Wi-Fi kits available, and may approach homework clubs across the city to lend them to students who don't have internet at home.
The OPL board will receive the report at its meeting Tuesday.