Chicago Public Library Increases Internet Access Through its Innovative "Hotspot at Home" Program; lending service will include laptops and digital skills training.
2. What assumptions are you making in what you propose, and how will you test them?
We are assuming that many people who do not use the Internet on a regular basis are missing opportunities to participate as fully in civic and economic life as they otherwise might.
We are assuming that the “Hotspot at Home” program will eliminate significant barriers – cost, equipment, and knowledge – for these individuals to begin engaging online. The program will allow people to “test drive” the Internet in their own space, and on their own terms.
We are assuming that these individuals will begin to see the power and relevance of the Internet to their own needs and interests, and that they will become less intimidated and more willing to explore opportunities for deeper, more sustained engagement.
We are assuming that in order to increase rates of in-home Internet usage, we will need to provide both the technology and the ongoing individual support, to increase the users’ skills and comfort with technology.
We will test these assumptions by asking users to answer brief surveys, either online or in person, both before and after their experience with having this service in their homes. Their candid responses and perspectives will deepen our understanding and allow us to make improvements to the pilot.
3. How will you get your project in front of the necessary people or organizations? Chicago Public Library is already a key and strategic partner, along with Smart Chicago Collaborative, World Business Chicago, the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology, Chicago LISC and others, in a citywide effort to achieve greater digital engagement, as outlined in the Chicago Tech Plan. We believe these partnerships will allow CPL to ensure the widest possible outreach, engagement and dissemination of this project.
CPL’s participation in this robust partnership will also insure that we have the right expertise to help analyze the results. Our citywide partners will bring their neighborhood-level knowledge data sets and broad experience to help CPL identify failures or successes quickly. Most importantly, his group has the resources and expertise to help CPL scale this work quickly, once we have a grasp of best practices. We also have a strong public platform as a 2014 winner of the National Medal for Library Service from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
4. What are the obstacles to implementing your idea, and how will you address them? We will need to test various different approaches for distribution, individual support while identifying the right provider(s) and data plans for the partnership. Clearly, we will also need a plan for addressing issues of damage, loss and theft. Fortunately, our experience with other tech lending initiatives will help us surmount these challenges.
While this approach has not been implemented within the United States, libraries outside the US are now testing similar services in their communities. CPL is very active in the larger Global Library community. This includes hosting an international conference this summer (attended by library representatives from 40 countries) on emerging library service models. This global network will be invaluable as we experiment with this lending model. If funded, we will bring in our broader network from within and outside the US to both inform our approach and then share what we learn.
5. How much do you think your project will cost, and what are the major expenses? We estimate costs to operate the project at six branches for one year to be approximately $165,000. This includes: 30 hotspots per branch, and ten laptops and/or tablets per branch. This budget also include enhanced and targeted digital skills classes and coaching by CyberNavigators, and some project management support. The biggest variable at this point is the potential participation of Internet
service providers, equipment manufacturers, or other tech companies; if CPL was able to engage one or more of these sectors as partners, up-front and operational costs could be significantly lower.
6. How will you measure the near-term indicators of success? As noted above, the project’s short-term success indicators will be based on responses to user surveys, both before and after their experience of the service. The surveys will help assess participants in the following areas:
1) increased comfort with engaging online; 2) increased interest in engaging online; 3) increased intention or plans to acquire at home or smart-phone based Internet access; 4) perceived increase in access to information 5) perceived increase in opportunities to search for employment, and 6) increase in digital skills and 8) greater understanding of how in home broadband access increases economic, civic and educational engagement.
Like many American cities, Chicago is moving energetically to establish itself as a hub of the 21st century's knowledge economy as outlined in the City’s recently released Tech Plan, in which the Library plays a prominent role. The success of this effort hinges in large part on robust, widespread access to information and opportunities to engage with the economic and civic life of the city, in all its forms. A 2011 study revealed that in-home broadband use in many of Chicago's lowest-income neighborhoods barely hits the 50 percent mark, and in a subset of the lowest income areas, is significantly lower. CPL is committed to increasing the number of digitally-connected, information literate and engaged children and adults in Chicago.
CPL will create a Wi-Fi hotspot lending program pilot at library branches in neighborhoods with low in-home broadband use, encouraging residents in these communities to borrow Wi-Fi hotspots for up to three weeks at a time. To help community members build their digital skills, CPL will also provide one-on-one digital literacy and skills coaching along with access to effective online tutorials. This training will be provided by the library’s current digital training corps, called CyberNavigators, and with the assistance of outside organizations as training partners.
For community members who lack both broadband access and a computer at home, CPL will launch a pilot computer-lending program, in which specially-tagged and outfitted laptops would be loaned in combination with the hotspots.
Library patrons who are able to visit their local branch take full advantage of its free, high-speed internet services, but many residents, due to work schedules, family responsibilities or other personal circumstances, are unable to use the Internet access at the library during regular hours of operation. CPL hopes to tackle this challenge and in the process increase in-home Internet access and adoption for underserved communities. It is our belief that the users who borrow hotspots will increase their usage of the Internet over time and be more likely to later purchase a service for their home than those that only use the service in the library. The convenience factor of having Wi-Fi and a laptop in the home will also increase their digital literacy because users will be able to use the technology often enough to build proficiency.
If successful, this pilot program could be expanded to include more Library branches, more intensive training, and longer-term hardware and software lending arrangements. The popularity of CPL's CyberNavigator program is strong evidence that Internet access, and the development of the digital skills necessary to take fuller advantage of that access, remain a critical role for the Library to play in supporting the city’s civic and economic vitality.
CPL has recently been honored as the inaugural Social Innovator Award winner by the Chicago Innovation Awards and recognized by German university study as the top urban library system in the US. CPL is a finalist for the IMLS National Medal for Libraries in 2014. The library team will build this pilot into its Library Innovation process, which means it will use a Human Centered Design approach to build out the program, test its viability and measure the program's success.