The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how severe the digital divide is in America. It has also demonstrated how important libraries are to helping connect their communities. Before the pandemic began, libraries provided Internet access for community members across the United States facilitating the ability for community members to search for work, use telehealth services, complete school assignments, and so much more. However, significant changes came into play when access to a physical library was no longer an option to access the Internet. In response, many libraries quickly pivoted to provide mobile hotspots to community members through lending programs, or to significantly expand their hotspot lending programs to better serve the needs of community members without Internet access. One of Mobile Citizen’s partners, the Kansas City Library, is one such example.
Recognizing the important role libraries play in digital inclusion, Congress recently allocated an additional $200 million in its latest COVID relief bill to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which will help fund local libraries. This money can be used to expand digital lending programs like the ones Mobile Citizen supports. Getting service providers on board and working with state agencies is a key component to reaching true digital inclusion and digital equity for all. The Gigabit Libraries Network, (GLN) a collaboration of tech-savvy and innovative libraries, regularly hosts meetings to share ideas and collaborate on how best to serve communities both during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. One resource for libraries looking for funding to potentially support lending programs is the American Rescue Plan State Guide. To learn more about funding for libraries in your state, please visit the IMLS state allotment table. Finally, if you have questions about when this funding will be available, you can find your state librarian by visiting the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) directory.