Since the Newark Free Library started lending out Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots a couple weeks ago, Interim Library Manager Sherri McCarthy has seen patrons check them out for a multitude of reasons.
One person needed a computer to do his taxes. Another was able to check an email account he hadn’t accessed in a long time. Others borrowed a Chromebrook to apply for jobs online.
Regardless of the reason, the devices are a lifeline for people who don’t otherwise have access to a computer or the internet.
“Looking for a job or even applying for social services benefits, sometimes you can only do it online,” McCarthy said.
The Chromebook and hotspot program is a joint initiative by New Castle County and the Delaware Division of Libraries. Every county library has nine Chromebook laptops and five Wi-Fi hotspots available to borrow.
County officials noted that the pandemic made the digital divide in the community more acute. Access to technology and broadband is critical for job searches, schoolwork, unemployment assistance, benefit applications, telehealth consultations and other online activities.
“Libraries play an important role in providing computer and internet access to the community,” County Executive Matt Meyer said. “By offering Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots for checkout, we are helping to meet an essential need and are providing important tools to help our community recover from the pandemic.”
Chromebooks are like other laptops but run apps instead of traditional software. Patrons can sign in as a guest to browse the internet or log in with a free Google account to create and share documents, edit photos, listen to music, etc., using Chrome apps.
Both types of devices can be borrowed for a week at a time and can be renewed up to three times, as long as they aren’t reserved by another patron. Devices not returned on time will be remotely disabled.
Borrowers must be 18 or older and have a library card in good standing. Devices must be returned to the library from which they were picked up and must be handed to a staff member, not put in the book drop.
Library staffers wipe the computers after they are returned to protect users’ personal data.
Devices can be reserved using the same system used for reserving books and other materials, dlc.lib.de.us, or by calling or visiting the library.
Libraries also have desktop computers available for use on site.