General information

WiFi Hotspots


Back in December I read an article about Seattle Public Library’s WiFi HotSpot lending program. At the time of the article they had 325 devices available for checkout and a waiting list of more than 1,000 patrons. The program was started via a grant with Google but at the end of the year SPL needed to find a permanent solution for paying for the program, which they did. Their goal is 775 units in all. You can see in the graphic above SPL has 566 HotSpots (as of July 7, 2016) with 1,211 holds.

It’s an ambitious program but given the size of the population they serve it may be too small. The New York Public Library has 10,000 devices in its HotSpot program, but again that’s probably not enough. In fact, according to their website all the devices are out (they’re doing a program where patrons get the HotSpot for up to a full year). Of course, comparing Seattle to New York City isn’t exactly apples to apples, but the goal is the same: providing home internet access to people who currently don’t have it.


Both SPL and NYPL started their programs with grants. They also have large taxing bodies in order to support such large programs. I opted to dedicate a portion of my budget to start a pilot program with five devices running unlimited data on both 5G and 2.4G networks. With practically no marketing—we put up signs in the library and included it in our newsletter—the HotSpots were all checked out on the first day they were available. Patrons check them out for one week at a time and can renew the HotSpot up to three times as long as there are no holds.

We have 37 holds on those five devices.

Clearly we need to expand the program. Almost immediately after launching our five HotSpots I got an email from TechSoup—they’re a non-profit who provides technology for other non-profits including libraries—detailing an offer for HotSpots through a company called Mobile Beacon. I requested maximum number of devices, ten, through TechSoup. We are cataloging and processing the HotSpots so we can get them into our patrons’ hands as quickly as possible.

Just like Seattle and New York, we want to provide mobile internet access to patrons. Our program is smaller in size and ambition but no less important to the people we serve. Our school district provides iPads to all students K-12. That works great when the students are in school or at the library, but many of them do not have internet access at home. Now they can check out a HotSpot and have that access at home.

We have patrons who take HotSpots up north camping. Coverage was about what you’d expect as you get more remote so we tell patrons to check the coverage map before they check out a HotSpot. Other patrons used the HotSpot on long road trips (we assumed the driver did not also use the HotSpot).

Will 15 HotSpots be enough for our patrons? Time will tell; we can always add more. I’d rather have fewer devices that I can turn over regularly than a lot of devices sitting unused.

Have you started a HotSpot program at your library?