More and more public libraries are temporarily closing shop across the country to limit the spread of coronavirus, but their Wi-Fi can still be a valuable resource for communities, the American Library Association said Monday.
Libraries that close should leave their Wi-Fi open to the public 24/7, the ALA said in a statement:
America’s 16,557 public library locations are essential nodes in our nation’s digital safety net—connecting people with no-fee access to computers and the internet, lending internet hotspots and devices, and providing digital literacy training and expansive learning and enrichment digital collections for all ages. The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting this safety net and spotlighting the persistent digital gaps for more than 20 million people in the United States, including millions of school-age children and college students forced out of classrooms and many more workers also displaced.
Libraries can and should leave their Wi-Fi networks on even when their buildings are closed wherever possible. As we have noted to the Federal Communications Commission, the ALA believes a 2010 Order from the Commission permits this use without jeopardizing E-rate funding that many public libraries and schools rely on to sustain and build their broadband capacity. In these unprecedented times, we should take whatever steps we can to leverage our resources to maximize benefit to our communities—particularly for those with the fewest resources.