COVID-19 related closures of schools and businesses created an urgent need for Internet access to conduct distance learning, apply for jobs, attend telemedicine appointments, file for government benefits, stay informed about COVID-related developments and other news, and connect virtually with loved ones. The pandemic also closed most public libraries, which cut off many people’s only reliable source of free Internet. While Alabama’s public libraries have resumed operations, COVID-19 emphasized the harm the Digital Divide causes to underserved communities and underscored the need to proactively create services that help close the gap before the next crisis arises.
This project, in part, addresses the Digital Divide in many of Alabama’s most underserved rural communities by providing mobile hotspots to select Alabama public libraries. This will: (1) empower public libraries in areas of low household broadband connectivity, which are often poor and rural counties, to serve a need made all the more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic; and, (2), empower local libraries in these communities to proactively maintain a lifeline to online information in the event of additional COVID-19 closures or a future crisis, whether disease or natural disaster, by enabling the circulation of mobile hotspots to patrons.