Removing a Public Library Service
My library has circulated hotspots and laptops/Chromebooks since 2017. The devices are never on the shelf available for a walk-in patron to grab and check out — they have a mile-long waitlist. We have had to replace the laptops (and more recently switched to the less expensive Chromebooks) every year as the devices don’t get returned or are damaged beyond repair. The hotspots frequently don’t get returned, so the internet service gets turned off, and maybe then we’ll get the device back to reactive. But not always.
I’m not saying this to shame the patrons who are checking these devices out. It’s obvious they are needed. Ideally, these devices would be for people traveling, or in need of a device for a few days while their own device gets repaired. A temporary solution. But that’s now how they’re being used. They are being used by people who do not have home internet service and cannot afford to get their own laptop. And the need has gotten so high my library can’t meet it.
We dithered about this. It’s always difficult to take away a service. But this particular service was no longer meeting the needs of our community, and we don’t have the budget or the staff time to devote to perpetuating a service that can barely limp along, with wait times for the few items left in circulation to end up being months long. As the department head said, this is a community problem that needs a larger community solution.
The public library can’t meet all the public’s needs. We are building facilities that are warming or cooling centers for those without, a safe place for teens to be after school, and generally a very reliable place to take your toddler for a storytime during the week. We try to have a wide variety of books, both physical and digital, and provide programs for our patrons to learn from and have fun with. And most of us have free WiFi in the building and parking lot areas. My current library also has a decent amount of laptops available for in-house use in addition to our desktop public computers. But we’ve reached our limits with helping bridge the digital divide. More is needed.