THE LOOP — The Chicago Public Library is planning to lend out wireless hot spots and laptops in one of the first programs of its kind in the country.
"Wi-Fi lending is a pilot program that we are interested in exploring in order to make the Internet available to people without this technology at home," said Brian Bannon, commissioner of the library system.
The system's "Hotspot at Home" initiative has been in planning stages for a while, but received a boost when the library decided to apply for funding through the Knight News Challenge grant competition earlier this month.
The details of the pilot program are still being hashed out, but will likely start out at 12 branches that are in communities where home broadband usage rates are the lowest.
As with checking out books, DVDs or fishing poles, anyone with a library card in good standing would be able to take home the devices.
"If I can get the Internet that way, it would make my life much easier," said Douglas Schaffer, a 53-year-old Auburn Gresham resident who looks for jobs twice a week using library computers, including those at the Harold Washington Library Center. "I can use the Internet at home every morning and not have to find my way to the library."
The program also would likely lead to an expansion of computer training services, such as the existing CyberNavigator program, which provides in-library computer experts to those needing help with anything from opening a browser window to doing something far more advanced.
The branch libraries likeliest to get the program first are in community areas where less than half of the residents have broadband access at home, based on a 2011 survey of Internet access across the city.
Based on that, hot spots could be checked out in Archer Heights, Greater Grand Crossing, Hermosa and South Deering, among other West and South side neighborhoods.
"I definitely see it as an advantage for kids," said Juan Avalos, a 26-year-old CyberNavigator at Lozano. "It's useful for those who can't access [the Internet] from home."
The New York Public Library also submitted a similar proposal for the Knight News Challenge. If Chicago's bid for the Knight grant fails, it will look at other options to pay for the program, Bannon said.
Such a program has many people with library cards excited.
"I come here every day to search for jobs," 40-year-old Carlos Avila said while using a Lozano computer. "Being able to use the Internet at home would be convenient for me to do everything we need to do these days."