Library working improve students’ internet access in rural areas

VIDEO: Library working improve students’ internet access in rural areas

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County Public Library is lending mobile technology to help students in rural parts of the county get internet access.

The library made 100 Kajeet mobile hotspot devices available to lend out at several libraries in the most rural areas of the county.

  • St. Paul’s/Hollywood Library, 5130 Hwy. 165 in Hollywood
  • Edisto Island Library, 1589 Hwy. 174 on Edisto Island
  • McClellanville Library, 222 Baker Street in McClellanville

The devices are already available to pick up at the St. Paul’s/Hollywood Library. The other branches should have them by next week.

Prior to the Coronavirus Pandemic, CCPL officials said these rural branches were very popular when it came to school-aged kids coming in for help and internet access. In fact, they’ve been working closely with the school districts on where the need for internet is.

“These are some of our most rural areas of our county,” CCPL Associate Director John Walden says. “There’s just really not a lot of access where people can get to. We know now how important digital access is. COVID really brought that to light because now we have all of these students in rural areas that need somewhere to access internet to be able to do their school work.”

“While we know 100 additional devices are not enough, we believe it’s a step in the right direction and we are committed to further efforts in narrowing that gap,” CCPL Executive Director Angela Craig says.

State officials are working on mapping and ascertaining the number of South Carolinians who lack broadband.

Officials within the Office of Regulatory Staff say it is safe to assume at least 100,000 households don’t have it based on the orders they’ve received for broadband devices. But, that number doesn’t account for the number of students or families that weren’t eligible for the devices that don’t have service.

The agency is working on a mapping project that is just now in the data collection phase, so they’re hoping, eventually, they’ll have that data.

But that’s why organizations like the Charleston County Public Library are trying to help bridge that gap.

“We know broadband is challenging in some of those areas and people, unfortunately, can’t afford it sometimes. Even if there is access, they can’t afford it,” Walden says. “So we were looking for a way to provide the community with some access.”

The hotspots are able to be checked out for 28 days with an adult library card.

The Kajeet devices, powered by Verizon, were awarded to CCPL through a grant aimed at expanding digital network access, the purchase of internet accessible devices and providing technical support services. This project is made possible in part by a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services administered by the South Carolina State Library.

The grant also included computer devices. Those are expected to be available for lending in early 2021.

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