Help Your Community and Patrons Get Low-Cost Internet and Affordable Devices

Text reading Emergency Broadband Benefit FCC in the shape of a WiFi signal

The Federal Communications Commission has launched a temporary program to help families and households struggling to afford Internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) provides a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers.

Similar to the Lifeline program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit exists to ensure that individuals with low income can fully participate in civic life by connecting them with affordable internet service and access to devices, two of the principles of digital inclusion.

How can libraries help? 

  • Help get the word out to your patrons! This is a limited time benefit, so the sooner people apply, the better. The FCC has created a free downloadable multilingual Outreach toolkit complete with fact sheets, social media posts, flyers and more than can be used to spread the word. 
  • Coordinate with partner organizations to assist in reaching out to qualifying individuals. 
  • Become familiar with the offers available to your community so you’ll be able to connect people on a moment’s notice.

Program details:

The Fine Print:

  • The program will end as soon as funds run out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency.
  • Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household. Program rules acknowledge there may be more than one eligible household residing at the same address.

Contact:

  • For more information, the community can visit getemergencybroadband.org or call 833-511-0311. An application by mail can also be requested by calling the same number.

Additional resources:

Free Webinar: The Library’s Role in Connecting Texans to Internet Access

County map of Texas depicting different percentages of broadband availability. Data collected and mapped by ConnectedTexas.

Almost one million Texans do not have access to high-speed internet access in their homes, but what role do libraries and library workers play in ensuring home connectivity? 

On Tuesday, May 25, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. (Central), join Mark Smith, State Librarian and Director of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and Eddy Smith, Executive Director of the Abilene Library Consortium and Texas Library Association representative to the Governor’s Broadband Development Council, for a free webinar. They will discuss the current landscape of internet access in Texas. You’ll learn why Texans do not have equitable access to high-speed internet (broadband), what potential solutions—including funding—may exist to level the playing field, and how libraries and library workers can play a role in ensuring a future of statewide connectivity.

Registration for this webinar can be found on our Continuing Education webinars page.

Prepare for Library Funding with the Digital Equity Webinar Series

This is an exciting moment for the library field! State and federal leaders are prioritizing access to high speed internet connection (broadband) for all citizens. 

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) will provide $200 million dollars to the Institute of Museum of Library Services, of which $8.3 million will go to Texas. ARPA also allocated $7.172 billion (yes billion) as part of the Emergency Connectivity Fund to ensure that people across the United States can access the internet. Libraries are eligible to apply for this funding, but the rules to do so are still being determined. 

Libraries are about to see a massive influx of funding to assist with connectivity, so now is the perfect time to learn how libraries, nonprofits, policymakers, and government leaders are devising actionable, equitable plans to bridge the digital divide. A free weekly Wednesday webinar series from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance will provide just this context. The series began this past Wednesday, April 6 at 12:00 p.m. CT and will run until June 2. Register for one, some, or all at https://www.digitalinclusion.org/net-inclusion-2021-webinar-series/

Apply for Free Library Privacy Crash Courses

Library Freedom Project (LFP) is now seeking applicants for our new Crash Courses program. LFP’s Crash Courses are free, two-month online training programs for library workers who want to learn practical ways to defend privacy in their libraries. 

Library workers can apply for two Crash Courses:

Systems and Policies (will run May – June 2021)

In this Crash Course, we’re focusing on privacy in library infrastructure. Topics will include: creating good privacy and data governance policies, conducting privacy audits, working with Library IT, understanding vendor agreements from a privacy perspective, and more. It will cover some technical stuff, but it’s intended for library workers without a formal technical background or role.

Programs and training (will run September – October 2021)

In this Crash Course, we’re learning how to teach privacy to patrons, fellow staff, and other stakeholders. We’ll cover some of the broader privacy landscape out in the world–things like consumer technologies, police surveillance, artificial intelligence–and discuss how the loss of privacy affects our communities. We’ll learn how to run effective and interesting privacy programs for various audiences.


Application questions, deadlines, and other details are available at  libraryfreedom.org/crashcourse. BIPOC library workers are strongly encouraged to apply. Questions about the program can be directed to alison@libraryfreedom.org. Deadline to submit for Systems and Policies course is April 10, 2021. Deadline to submit for Programs and Training Course is August 10, 2021.

Resources to Recognize and Counter COVID-19 Vaccine Mis/Disinformation

As the COVID-19 vaccine inches closer to widespread distribution, help your patrons and community find reputable and reliable information about the vaccine. If library workers stick to government and respected health organization resources, we should feel confident that we can provide high quality information to the public.

As a side note, you may want to provide the disclaimer that the library provides general information for educational purposes and that everyone’s individual situation is different so they should consult a healthcare provider for a specific medical concern.

Here are a few resources along with some helpful tutorials in spotting fake news and evaluating information found on the web.

Texas Information Sources:

General information:

Evaluating information on the web: resources and tutorials

New technology training and grant opportunity for small and rural Texas libraries

black and white graphic of school with computer monitor showing a heart in the doorway

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is excited to announce that applications for a third year to apply for Library Technology Academy are now open! This opportunity is a training and grant program for libraries serving populations of 30,000 or less.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, access to technology and the internet is vital to living a robust and connected life and libraries have always been at the center of ensuring community connection. But many libraries struggle with keeping technology updated, communicating its value to stakeholders, and ensuring technology purchases meet unique community needs. This is where Library Technology Academy comes in!

What is the Library Technology Academy training grant?

Taught by nationally renowned library technologist, Carson Block, participants will go through an 8-week online training program, at the end of which they’ll devise a technology project that meets their community’s unique needs. Each library will then receive up to $10,000 in the form of a reimbursement grant to implement their proposed project.

Recent projects have included:

  • Implementing a self-service checkout station
  • Developing a WiFi hotspot lending program
  • Creating a digital memory lab
  • Engaging teens with gaming
  • Implementing a mobile classroom
  • Engaging the ESL community with translation technology

What will I learn at Library Technology Academy?
Participants will:

  • Learn how to consider their community’s needs when purchasing technology
  • Learn how to be strategic in maintaining and sustaining library technology using tried and true technology practices, templates and procedures;
  • Learn how to craft data-informed grant project proposals;
  • Connect with other small and rural libraries in Texas to learn and share successes and challenges

Testimonials from past participants:

“The Library Technology Academy was instrumental in guiding my limited knowledge of technology to a higher level. Although I was meeting online with many technologically savvy librarians and their colleagues, I never felt inadequate.  From a small, rural library, one-person view, I knew that this class would give the small community in which I work the opportunity to come into the 21st century. Thank you both for this invaluable opportunity, and I continue to grow in knowledge and understanding because of this.” Marianne McGinnis, Director of the Charlotte Public Library, Charlotte, Texas (pop. 3,965)

“The Library Technology Academy has been a game changer for our Library! Like most libraries we have always tried to look to the future when planning for the best technology to meet the needs of our community but have hesitated to try anything to new. My favorite part about the tech academy is that we were counseled by “experts” in both technology and library services. This program really taught us to dig deep and think about solutions and technology possibilities that we would have been too scared to consider before. Having colleagues to bounce ideas off was such a fun part of the program.”  — Andria Heiges, Director of Nancy Carol Roberts Memorial Library, Brenham, Texas (pop. 16,951).

How to Apply:
Applications are open from August 31 – September 28, 2020.
For more information, including requirements and eligibility, please refer to the  Library Technology Academy webpage!  Or take a virtual tour of the resources by watching this video.

When does it start?

The online training will run from mid-October – early December 2020. It will consist of the following:

  • Intensive LIVE introductory training:
    • Monday, October 19th: 10am – 4pm and Friday, October 23, 10am – 1pm
       
  • Weekly LIVE one-hour trainings during the following weeks: October 26 through December 14.
    The day and time of the training will be decided by participant consensus after attendees meet for the introductory training.

Contact Information:

If you need assistance with the application process or have further questions, please contact Cindy Fisher, Digital Inclusion Consultant and Library Technology Academy program manager, at cfisher@tsl.texas.gov

This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to TSLAC under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.

Help Us Build a Map of Free WiFi in Texas

Map of texas with WiFi points; description of joint project between TSLAC, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and Texas Legal Services Center.

Texans need WiFi access and we need your help building an authoritative map of free WiFi locations in Texas!  

If your library offers freely accessible WiFi that individuals can connect to outside as well as inside of the building, we encourage you to fill out the below form. The information you provide will populate a map that will be shared publicly with Texans needing free WiFi access. 

Fill out this short form to add your organization to the map: https://arcg.is/0TOPvu0
*If you have multiple branches for your library location, please fill out the form for each branch.
*Please provide as much specific information about each individual location as possible, including library hours and places where WiFi is easily reachable. Fill out the form as if you were someone who had never visited your library before.
*Help us avoid duplicate submissions by checking to see if your location has already been added. View the live map here

The interactive tool provides Texans with the following information for each WiFi hotspot:

  • Instructions on how to access the WiFi network map
  • WiFi hours of operation
  • Additional nearby services
  • Options to view the map in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, as well as a mobile-friendly version

The form will take less than 5 minutes to complete. We ask that you fill out the form promptly so that we can get the information to those who need it. Together, we can help connect Texans to the internet during a highly sensitive time. 

This is a joint project of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas Legal Services Center / TexasLawHelp.com, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. For more information or for questions, please email the project team at TexasWifiMap@tlsc1.org. If you have library-specific questions, feel free to contact me at cfisher@tsl.texas.gov.

For more information on how libraries can support digital inclusion initiatives like this one, visit https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/tech/digitalinclusion.

Providing Socially Distanced Computer Help

Curious how other Texas libraries are providing technology assistance these days? Join Henry Stokes and Cindy Fisher for a facilitated interactive discussion on using technology to provide contactless library service in the age of COVID-19? Register here

The urgency of providing computer help in the aftermath of the pandemic has meant that many library staff are finding creative solutions that ensure their own safety while also providing essential connectivity for citizens to do vital activities like filing for unemployment, booking telemedicine appointments, taking online tests, or maintaining social connections with friends or family. 

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Peter Sime, Library Services Supervisor of People at the City of Grand Prairie Public Libraries in Grand Prairie, Texas. Peter and his team developed a way to provide one-on-one technology assistance to customers using the library’s public computers while also ensuring that library staff are at a safe social distance. And, because we knew other libraries have similar questions, with the help of his communications office, he created a video demonstrating just how this service works. You’ll find that embedded below.

Peter and I also spoke about the realities of offering in-person technology help in the age of Covid-19, and how the pandemic helped them shift some of their pre-existing practices to ensure a more user-centered approach.

Describe how patrons currently access the public computers? How does this differ pre-pandemic life?

The City of Grand Prairie has three libraries and at each location we have regulated computer access by limiting the number of computers that can be used at a time. We’ve done this by taking away existing furniture to ensure six feet of distance. In some cases, we provided more than six feet of distance because there may be multiple people sharing the same computer. We’ve recently added sneeze guards in between the computers and that has actually allowed us to add a few more computers back into the rotation. 

As we were planning to reopen, it was really important to us to make things as normal as possible because the last thing people need right now is more change. We wanted people to know it’s still their library and it still works the same way. They still use the same reservation system to reserve computers. We do have a 45 minute time limit on the computers, as we did before, but there isn’t a big waiting list for computers because most people have been very efficient with their time. 

We also added a way for customers to sign up for a computer using a future reservation one day ahead of time. This is to accommodate customers that need to have access to a computer for taking a test; these reservations are for two hours. The future reservations also ensure that people don’t have to stand around waiting for a computer to become available while in close proximity to others. We have limited the number of future reservations available to ensure that there are still computers available for walk-in customers. We are really busy from 12pm (when we first open) until about 3:00 p.m. A lot of the things we’ve learned and processes we’ve put into place, we want to keep after the pandemic subsides. Sometimes we’ve asked ourselves, “Why didn’t we do this before?”

You all are using specific software to help assist computer users. Tell me a little bit about it. How does this help you keep a safe distance?

One of our biggest challenges upon allowing people back into the library to use the computers was how we help people. Pre-pandemic, our staff had been great with helping people on the computers, talking through what they need and assisting them side-by-side, but that’s obviously not doable now. 

Our IT department uses TeamViewer to work on library staff computers remotely so we asked them if it could be configured on the public computers so library staff could assist customers remotely, and they did. They installed it on one staff computer at the main branch and another one at our Warmack branch, as well as our public computers.

The host computer is the library staff computer and this enables staff to access any of the public computers that the software is also installed on. In order for a customer to get help, they click on the TeamViewer icon on the public computer’s desktop, and it generates a code. In order for the staff member to access their computer, the patron has to give them permission and the code. Once the customer provides the code, we can then log into their computer and basically see the screen the customer is working on. We can move the mouse, we can type things in for them, and we can show them how to do things. 

All of our computers have a sign on top of the monitor advertising a live helpline, so the customer dials the number on their cell phone, and the library staff member is available to help both over the phone and through viewing their computer screen. 

Though the length of time varies, the average time that a customer needs help is between 8-10 minutes though we have helped people for upwards of 30 or 40 minutes.

What is the cost of the software?

The library pays for a specific license for each staff computer about $500 per license for one PC. However, there are set-ups where one license would enable three people to help at the same time. We didn’t go this route at the time because we didn’t have three people at main branch that we could dedicate to doing this at the same time as I needed staff on the floor to monitor and clean. 


Which staff are trained to use the software and how difficult is it to use?
It’s a very intuitive software. We have multiple people trained at our Warmack branch, so the service rotates. At Main, we have one person who mainly provides assistance. They are actually working from home using a laptop to remote into the PC at the library. It’s been a great way to provide work for those at home. 

If the helpline is busy, the calls automatically roll over to the reference desk. We have a floating staff person who helps clean the computers when customers leave, and this person will also provide assistance if they can from six feet away or they will let the customer know that if they can hang on for a few minutes, the helpline will be free again and they can try calling back. We can extend their time on the computer to ensure that person gets the help they need. Additionally, the library staff at Warmack branch could also log in to the main branch and assist customers if we had a large number of people needing help all at the same time.

How have patrons received this service and what kinds of assistance have you been providing?
It has been a really well received service; when people use it, they love it. We’re able to provide direct hands-on instruction, but no one’s in danger of getting sick.

One of the hurdles that we had to overcome early on was convincing folks that there was a real person on the other end of the phone, not an automated robot or a personal assistant like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. When some of our regular customers figured out that it was a library staff person they recognized, they used it more frequently. 

We’ve been helping customers with so many different things like downloading and uploading resumes; many drivers license renewals and navigating the DMV website to find driving records, and even some job application websites. For those who are not computer familiar, these job application websites can be really daunting. It really helps to have someone walking you through it.

What have you learned throughout the process that would be helpful for other library staff interested in implementing this.

They’re kind of simple things, but we put the number to call on top of the monitor right at eye level. And I did not anticipate that we’d have to sell people on the service and to explain that the help being provided is a real person from the library. If you’re going to implement this, think about ways to address that ahead of time. We phrased the card at the top of the monitor with the following: “For direct library staff assistance, contact this number”. We think it helps customers really understand this is not a machine, it’s a staff person.

Big thanks to Peter Sime and the computer assistance team at City of Grand Prairie Public Libraries for sharing their expertise.

Do you have a technology assistance tip or service that you’d like to share with other Texas libraries? If so, contact Cindy Fisher, Digital Inclusion Consultant, at cfisher@tsl.texas.gov or share your comments below.

Yes, We’re Open: Talking with the Forest Hill Public Library

Michael Hardrick

We have received many questions regarding how libraries throughout the state of Texas are providing services to the public. To help answer these questions, we are starting a blog post series titled Yes, We’re Open, which will interview library directors and workers throughout the state to provide snapshots in library response. In this second installment of the series, we interviewed Michael Hardrick at the Forest Hill Public Library in Forest Hill, Texas.
 

In what ways is your library open to the public?

We have been doing Dial-in and Drive-by (curbside) since June 1, 2020. Patrons can either call or go online to request materials. They are also able to pick up craft kits to do projects with their children at home. We are planning on allowing patrons into the library by appointment only starting July 6, 2020. They will be able to use the computers, meet tutors, fax, print, and make copies. Unfortunately, at this time patrons still will not be able to browse the collection and building access will be limited to an hour a day. We also added several digital resources for patrons to use and provide virtual programming.

Exterior of Forest Hill Public Library

How have your library’s policies and procedures changed?

Our policies have and continue to change as we navigate through this pandemic. Patrons and staff will be required to wear a mask while in the library. Patrons must request items they want to check out either online or by calling the library. There will be no browsing of library collection and no lounging in the library. We built in 15 minutes between each computer session to allow staff time to clean computer stations.

How have you adapted your library space?

We have removed all toys from the children’s area, designated six computers for public use, and currently use our meeting room to quarantine returned materials for 72 hours.

What services are you providing to vulnerable populations? For example, those who are currently experiencing homelessness, are homebound, or do not have access to the internet, technology or have limited digital literacy skills.

We currently provide Wi-Fi hotspots for patrons to checkout. These hotspots are checked out for two weeks. We also created a COVID-19 resource page for patrons to find reliable and accurate information. The library staff and the board continue to look for ways to help our patrons who have been hit the most during the pandemic.

How are you helping your staff during reopening? For example, how is the employee mental health and physical well safety being addressed?

We have staff meetings every morning to discuss what’s going on around us. What the agenda for the day is, plus time to vent. Our staff is very involved in the decision making–determining what will help them feel comfortable to open back up to the public. We are taking small steps and reopening in phases so that everyone is at ease in the way we serve our patrons.

Describe your decision-making process. How did you communicate with your governing authority?

My first thought is always what’s best for our community, how will this affect our patrons and what are the issues I can actually control and do something about. When the pandemic first hit, I was closely watching the news, listening to my peers at other libraries and looking at what the city council was planning along with the county. I had regular meetings with my staff to discuss options and then I presented a plan to our board members.

Director Michael Hardrick has worked in libraries for 18 years and just entered his second year as library director.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Research Shows COVID-19 Virus Undetectable on Five Highly Circulated Library Materials After Three Days

A recent scientific study from the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Project has found that the COVID-19 Virus was undetectable on the following items after three days:

  • Hardback book cover (buckram cloth)
  • Softback book cover
  • Plain paper pages inside a closed book
  • Plastic book covering (biaxially oriented polyester film)
  • DVD case

The Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Project is designed to generate scientific information to support the handling of core museum, library, and archival materials as these institutions begin to resume operations and reopen to the public. The first phase of the research is focusing on commonly found and frequently handled materials, especially in U.S. public libraries.  

Read the full press release or download the full report.

For more information, visit the REALM project page or sign up to receive updates as they happen.