Pandemic Practices: Mobile Hotspots

This post features invaluable input from Zeth Lietzau and staff at Denver Public Library

In response to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing protocols, we are moving more of our lives online, including work for those lucky enough to be able to work remotely, our classrooms, and many library services. Much of this assumes that everyone has internet access at home, which we know is not the case for many low-income families, and while innovative, making programs and services available exclusively online exacerbates our persistent digital divide. While many libraries have implemented Wi-Fi hotspot lending programs to help bridge the divide, stay-at-home orders make this service more crucial than ever.  We talked with Zeth Lietzau, Director of Collections, Technology, and Strategy at Denver Public Library about their Hotspot Lending program, their practices, policies, and lessons that they’ve learned.

Hardware & Costs

Purchasing: Through TechSoup each hotspot is $15 up front for an administrative fee, and then you have to pay $120 up front per year to Mobile Beacon for the service for each device. Ultimately, the hotspots are actually on the Sprint network. In terms of filtering, Sprint offers a filtering service that you just have to request is turned on.

Alternatives: DPL never filed E-rate for these. If this is still an eligible service then it would be a great deal under the T-Mobile program, which is $40 per month for unlimited data and no up-front charge. But with E-rate you’d have to take competitive bids and see who responded with what proposal.

Lessons Learned: In terms of ordering, I don’t really recommend Mobile Beacon’s program through TechSoup because it’s been slow, confusing, and almost 1 in 20 has had a battery bulge issue that has caused us to take the hotspot out of commission and seek a replacement.

Policies & Procedures

Eligibility: DPL hotspots are available for checkout to any library customer with a full privilege card.

Loan Period: 3 weeks

Holdable: Yes

Self Services: Hotspots are placed in their regular self-service holds pick-up area and can be checked out via self-checkout (they are an RFID library).

Renewable: Technically, yes. But this has never happened at DPL given demand. Titles with pending holds are not eligible for renewal and they have a long wait list for hotspots.

Packaging: Hot spots are placed in the same case they use for CD book sets and include basic information on the cover about how to use the device.

Device Management: DPL has chosen a high-touch method to be more responsive to demand for hotspots.  Inventory is monitored and any devices not returned within 2 days of the due date are manually set to lost status, generating a bill. They then communicate the device number to the vendor to suspend service to the device. The rationale here is that a non-functioning device is of no use to the customer and that returning it is in their best interest to reverse replacement costs and unlock their account.

Additional Resources: Library Journal did a solid article on hotspot options, costs, and other considerations that are still relevant and accurate: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=hot-spot-techknowledge

Does your library have a hotspot lending program? Have you changed policies and procedures related to hotspot lending in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and Colorado’s stay-at-home order? If you have information that you would like to share with the Colorado library community, please reach out to me, Marisa Wood, at mwood@coloradovirtuallibrary.org, or by phone at 303.351.2338.