Library extends Wi-Fi reach

By Rose Egelhoff •The Times-Independent

Libraries are much more than book depositories—they’re information hubs, according to Grand County Library Director Carrie Valdes. Now, in the spirit of helping more people access information, the library has started a new program, circulating Chromebook laptops and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots that users can check out and take home.

“As a fundamental part of the community, we’re making a dedicated effort to get out into the community rather than expecting the community to come to us … all of these things are to do our part to improve community access to information, whatever that is,” Valdes said.

Valdes credited Head of Adult Services Meg Flynn for her work on a grant that funded the program. With the hotspots, users can have internet access anywhere that gets T-Mobile service—most places in the valley, said Valdes. She said that for the $30,000 project, the library is only responsible for paying $5,000. The rest is covered by grants.

A person can check out a laptop and/or a Wi-Fi hotspot, similarly to the way one would check out a book. “They’re practically indestructible. They use them in a lot of schools,” Valdes said of the small, sturdy Chromebook laptops.

Valdes said the goal of the program is to help more people access information. Given the estimate that 60 percent of Moab’s workforce has lower-paying hospitality jobs, there are a lot of families who cannot afford access to the internet. “If you have the resources, your family may not need a laptop or Wi-Fi, if you’re able to pay those bills and have some discretionary funds. But there’s a lot of families in the county that don’t, so our hope is to provide access to those families that may struggle,” Valdes said. “People can check [a hotspot] out, take it home, kids can do homework—because lack of public transportation is also an issue in the community. So we provide a great deal of services in the building but there is a population that can’t get to us, so one goal is to get out into the community … Being able to circulate these is hopefully going to at least partially address some of those issues.”

The library is also reserving sets of laptops and hotspots for their community partners—the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, Arches Education Center and the Grand County High School—to make sure even more people have access to the technology. “The thought was that as these kids are traveling for their different competitions, be it sports or debate or theater or whatever … we’re rural and isolated so we’re talking two hours to any type of event. The idea was just to get these buses as Wi-Fi hotspots and have the kids be able to connect their phones, their laptops, whatever to the device and be productive during the drive,” Valdes said of the high school partnership.

Arches Education Center offers high school completion services, said Director of Adult Education Trisha Hedin. “So a lot of my students come in and work on their diplomas. Basically I have two manners to work on a diploma. One is paper-based but most of my curriculum is software-based. My hope with this idea is that they can obviously work here with me sometimes but also be able to work at home remotely using that software system to gather credits,” Hedin said. “Our goal with sharing this concept was that for people who don’t have access to the internet, they would be able to utilize this at home because they would be allowed a hotspot and they could work on their credits from home … I think it’s a great idea and we’ll see where it goes.”