Mobile WiFi Hotspot Resources

Hand holding a guide reading "mobile hotspot" with a turquoise box in the background containing the mobile wifi hotspot device.
Hillsboro Public Library’s mobile WiFi hotspot kit

Communities all over Texas have experienced increased demand for WiFi connectivity due to normal connection locations, such as schools, libraries, and places of work, being closed or operating on limited hours in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some public libraries have been lending mobile WiFi hotspots for a few years, while others are considering a new program to meet the digital inclusion needs of their community. 

To assist libraries in the process, we here at TSLAC thought it would be helpful to provide two kinds of resources:

Do you have tips or resources on mobile WiFi hotspot lending that you’d like to share? Add your comments below or contact Cindy Fisher at cfisher@tsl.texas.gov and I’ll add them to the resource above. 

Extending Your Library’s WiFi Reach

Interested in learning more about expanding digital access to your community and the library’s technology capacity? Sign up for Friday’s webinar: Towards Digital Equity and Technology Access in Texas Libraries. Register here

Library parking lots were access points for WiFi even before social distancing requirements due to COVID-19 made them essential connection points for internet access. But with many libraries closed or operating on limited hours, boosting your library’s WiFi signal into your parking lot can mean the difference between a patron being able to apply for unemploymentt or not.  Let’s take a look at some relatively easy things you can do to expand access. 

How Much Speed Do People Need?

First, it’s useful to know just how much bandwidth (or the amount of data passing through network cables) is needed for specific types of activities and tools. Three different types of activities generally comprise how we work online: downloading, uploading, and streaming. 

  • Streaming is a type of data transfer that isn’t stored locally anywhere on your device; instead you just listen or view it as it streams continuously from another source. Streaming only uses as much bandwidth as is needed at the time; think of it more like a marathon — a slow pace (bandwidth consumption) but over a longer period of time, which can add up to a lot of data use overall.
  • Downloading transfers data from one place to another, usually permanently saving a copy on your device. Depending on your internet speed, this typically takes up more bandwidth over a shorter period of time; think of it more like a sprint than a marathon. 
  • Uploading is just transferring something you have locally to another data source. Everything from email attachments, uploading PDFs to school classroom platforms, posting pictures to social media, or sharing your own webcam in a video chat requires uploading data. 

The chart below shows the average estimated amount of bandwidth needed for each of these activities. 

Chart showing the amount of internet speed needed for different kinds of online activities. Activities such as email and advanced internet browsing require 1Mbps or less, while more bandwidth intensive activities such as streaming high definition video, online gaming, and video conferencing require 1.5 - 5 Mbps.
Different online activities require different amounts of bandwidth.

Things like email or simple web-browsing are normally low bandwidth, but even during browsing you might be searching websites that have image-heavy pages or come across auto-play videos which will increase your bandwidth needs. Activites like streaming videos or web-conferencing consistently require higher bandwidth.  Additionally, when there are groups of people multitasking between lots of different bandwidth intensive activities, each person will start to notice that their overall speed decreases. That’s why it’s important to have high enough broadband speeds from which your WiFi can assist users in your parking lot. 

How To Strengthen Your Signal

The first step to strengthening your signal is to figure out how strong it is in the first place. Take a smartphone, tablet, or laptop and connect it to your library’s WiFi network. Then, go to various parts of your library’s parking lot or outdoor areas where you are expecting people to use the network and run an internet speedtest.  Keep in mind social distancing policies according to your city or county guidelines when deciding where you’ll test.

An internet speedtest will tell you how much bandwidth you are currently providing to your community — and it’s helpful to know both download AND upload speeds as previously noted that to fully participate in online activities we use both. Here are two reputable sources for speedtests:

Repositioning or Purchasing Equipment

Based on your capacity and your library’s unique needs, follow the step below to boost your library’s WiFi signal.

Step 1: Contact your Internet Service Provider and determine the maximum Mbps your building receives under your current contract or agreement. During this crisis, many ISPs will temporarily offer free speed upgrades, waive overages, or offer other free promotions or services. Ask if anything is available to your library.

Step 2: If no additional funds can be spent: 

Take one of your library’s access points and move it close to a window nearest to your parking lot. The closer your access point is to where people will be using it, the better the signal.


Step 2: If additional funds can be spent
(for example, you have received a grant or donation):  Ensure your current equipment does not reduce your speed.

  • For example, your ISP contract may be for 140 Mbps but if your modem’s maximum rate is 100 Mbps you are losing speed. In this case you should use the first option below.

Step 3: Determine what equipment you need to bring your network to the parking lot or outdoor area. Three options:

  • Easiest solution: Replace your modem and router with upgraded models. If possible, choose a simultaneous dual-band or tri-band router which supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Ensure the devices work with your ISP. Daisy chain your old router to the new router and place it by a window facing the parking lot. 
  • Second easiest: Purchase a new wireless extender or multiple new wireless routers, either indoor or outdoor. An extender simply extends the reach of your wireless network. If possible, choose a simultaneous dual-band or tri-band device which supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Ensure the device works with your ISP. Install it near a window facing the parking lot or outdoors.
  • A little more legwork: Purchase a new wireless repeater, either indoor or outdoor. This device essentially creates a clone of your original network re-broadcasted to a second location and involves more complex setup. If possible, choose a dual-band or dual-radio device. Ensure the device works with your ISP. Install it near a window facing the parking lot or outdoors.

Need equipment recommendations?

Implementation even if you aren’t tech savvy:  

Reach out to your city or county IT department, a trusted volunteer, or even put out a call on social media for assistance and expertise. Generosity abounds when there are people in need. 

Additionally, if you do not have access to local IT support and are located in a rural area, the Fort Worth-based Information Technology Disaster Resource Center is providing technology assistance and connectivity to rural and underserved communities. As a library staff member, simply email them at projectConnect@itdrc.org to see if they can assist you. Their services are free of charge.

Curious to know more about broadband and WiFI networks? Enroll in our free online You Can Do  I.T curriculum that explains these concepts in further detail. 

Additional resources and references:

Many thanks to Liz Gabbitas and colleagues at the Utah State Library for their excellent guidelines on extending Library WiFi.

Webinar To Cover New TSLAC Grant Addressing COVID-19 Emergency

On Friday, May 8th from 10-11 am CST, join Bethany Wilson, TSLAC Grants Administrator, and Erica McCormick, TSLAC Program Coordinator, to learn about the TSLAC CARES grant program for libraries in response to the COVID-19 emergency. Register for the webinar here.  

The TSLAC CARES Grant Program funds community needs identified by Texas libraries in areas of digital access and inclusion to include programs, training, and tools necessary to increase community access to vital digital technologies and services. Additionally, funds may be utilized for library initiatives that support prevention, preparation, and response to the COVID-19 emergency. 

This reimbursement grant program will fund operating expenditures such as library supplies and materials, technology, furniture, and contractual services. All grant expenses must be designed to respond directly to the COVID-19 emergency. 

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) will begin accepting grant applications on May 8, 2020. Public and academic libraries in Texas who have identified community needs arising from or highlighted by the COVID-19 emergency are encouraged to apply.

We encourage you to bring your questions to the webinar on Friday, May 8th. We look forward to seeing you there. Contact Bethany Wilson, bwilson@tsl.texas.gov or Erica McCormick, emmcormick@tsl.texas.gov with questions.

2019 Texas Public Libraries Annual Report Portal Locks on April 30

Thank you and congratulations! to the two-thirds of Texas public librarians who have locked their Annual Report for 2019!  And if you are one of the nearly 50% who have submitted the signed Application for Accreditation, then give yourself an pat on the back!

This report does more than accredit Texas public libraries.  It provides the information that represents Texas libraries to the rest of the nation and beyond.  It allows stakeholders to have access to the data that tells every library’s story and to demonstrate the library’s value to the community.

However, there are still nearly 200 public libraries that need to get their report in by Thursday, April 30th!  For those of you who have completed the process, reach out to the library in the next town or county and make certain they have submitted everything that is needed.

Known issue:  question 3.9b will not always calculate and this will prevent report submission.  Valicia Greenwood can force the calculation on the back end.  Send an email to vgreenwood@tsl.texas.gov if you encounter this problem.  Other issues have been addressed here.

Libraries that submit an Annual Report are eligible to order Summer Reading Program materials at no cost, through this agency and CSLP.  Libraries that are accredited can benefit from the TexShare Card and TexShare Databases programs, from statewide interlibrary loan, from the competitive grants and other funding opportunities that come through this agency, and from E-rate, the federal telecommunications program that can provide up to a 90% discount for telecommunications.

Questions?  Submission Issues?  Accreditation concerns?  Visit the Annual Report webpage, or contact Valicia Greenwood by email.

Thank you, again, for your participation! Your library’s voice strengthens libraries everywhere.

Join a regional conversation with your neighboring Texas library colleagues to discuss service in the time of COVID-19!

Silhouette of man and woman with horses

During this time, it is extremely important that Texas library workers connect with their neighboring colleagues. To address this immediate need, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is hosting a series of online discussions with other libraries in your region that will enable Texas library workers to share concerns and resources with one another. The hosts of this discussion, TSLAC’s Continuing Education and Consulting team, will take a trauma-informed approach, helping to ensure that library workers are taking care of themselves as well as responding to the needs they see in their community.

These calls are open to library workers of all levels. Please note, these calls will not be recorded but collaborative notes will be shared afterward with all registrants, including those who were unable to attend. This document will be accessible in the registration confirmation email.

To find the day and time of your regional conversation and to register for one, please go to  https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/regionalcheckins.

Join us, and please share with your staff.

Questions or comments can be sent to ld@tsl.texas.gov.

Help Us Improve the TSLAC Website

Help us improve our website!

Take 5-9 minutes to complete the TSLAC Website Survey.

bit.ly/tslacsurvey2020

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) is conducting research to understand how the daily lives of Texans are touched by our work. The survey does not require that you have any knowledge or opinion of TSLAC, and our questions do not make any judgments about you whether you do or don’t. Your honest and straightforward responses will help us the most, so if you don’t know something, feel free to share that.

All responses are completely anonymous. While responses will be recorded to make use the data, we will not be able to track nor identify respondents in any way.

THANK YOU!

Resources for Workplace Preparedness

In response to the many requests for information we are receiving, we have developed a list of resources.

As new and updated resources become available, we will provide that information on our blog. We are here to support libraries and our communities in responding to challenges potential health risks. Please contact us at 800-252-9386 (Texas only) or email ld@tsl.texas.gov.

It’s Time! Submit the 2019 Texas Public Libraries Annual Report!

As we all “spring forward,” it’s time for Texas public library directors to get all of the library statistics collected over the last local fiscal year and enter them into Texas LibPAS.  This report is due no later than Thursday, April 30, 2020, a due date which cannot be extended.  We recommend that libraries complete the report before the end of this month, to allow staff enough time to review the reports from over 550 Texas public libraries!

Log-in information was emailed to public library directors in early January.  If there has been a change in leadership at your library, or if the information is no longer available, contact us at your earliest convenience (information below).

Answers to Frequent Questions

The new question, 7.9:  Successful Retrieval of Electronic Information. This question intends to capture use of databases (also called electronic collections) that cannot be included in the item and circulation count easily. If the library has databases either on its own or through a consortium, report the usage statistics from the vendor.  Report only sessions or full text items that your patrons have viewed. Report “0” (zero) in 7.9 if your library has ONLY TexShare databases.  A database that is freely available in the public domain should not be included.

Edit check on question 3.11:  Total Operating Expenditures, which states,

The ratio of TOTAL OPERATING EXPENDITURES to TOTAL STAFF EXPENDITURES is higher/lower than expected. Please check for possible errors or explain why the correct data are out of range.”

This is an edit check we have carried from our federal report that pops up when staff expenditures exceed half to two-thirds of the total operating expenditures.  There is no judgement here:  it is a mathematical check.  To resolve it, please add a note explaining that staff and total operating expenditures have been checked and verified. 

Printing the report:  clicking on the word “Print” at the top of the page will pop up a dialogue box with the following choices:

  • Template – this is the entire workbook, with question definitions and responses.
  • Screen – this is just the questions and responses, much as what is seen on the screen.
  • Cancel – if you don’t want to print, click on this.

If you print the report before it is locked, you will see a watermark of the word “Draft” on every page.  That no longer appears once the report is locked, even though you can still print the report.

Much more information is found on the Annual Report webpage:  https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/annualreport, including

Don’t forget to submit the signed Application for Accreditation, once your report is locked.

Email (accreditation@tsl.texas.gov) or call (800-252-9386 or 512-463-5466) if additional clarification is needed. 

Your participation helps give a voice to libraries nationwide.  Thank you for all your time and effort!

Connecting Patrons with Legal Help & Resources

As library workers it can be tricky to assist patrons with legal questions while carefully staying out of the territory of giving legal advice. Thankfully, there are two excellent Texas-specific legal resources designed and delivered by licensed attorneys that library staff can use to connect their patrons with free and basic legal resources. Two upcoming webinars will focus on each one:

Webinar 1: TexasLawHelp.org
Friday, March 06, 2020 — 10-11am CST
Register

TexasLawHelp.org is an easy to navigate website dedicated to providing free, reliable legal information to low-income Texans.  It is part of a broader effort within the national legal aid community to use technology, specifically the Internet, to enhance and expand the delivery of legal aid.  In this webinar, you’ll learn what kinds of tools and resources TexasLawHelp.org makes available, such as legal information written in easy-to-understand language,  legal forms, and even a LiveChat service where eligible visitors can get free legal advice from attorneys. TexasLawHelp is a project of the Texas Legal Services Center, and is supported by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, Texas Bar Foundation, Travis County Law Library, and Texas Legal Aid Organizations.

Webinar 2: Remote Legal Clinics – The Virtual Self-Help Center
Thursday, March 12 2020 — 10-11am CST
Register

Learn about one of Texas Legal Services Center’s newest legal aid programs. The Virtual Self-Help Center (VSHC) has two primary goals: (1) to empower and assist low-income, self-represented clients in family law cases and (2) to expand legal aid to more effectively reach rural communities. Most physical legal aid offices are located in urban areas, leaving a gap in service coverage. VSHC partners with community hosts in rural counties to set up “virtual” legal clinics that allow clients to video chat with attorneys. The majority of VSHC’s partners are libraries. This presentation will cover the need for legal aid across the state, the basic set up of a virtual clinic, and examples of what kind of help VSHC provides.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources that can help library staff connect patrons with their legal needs and resources.

Lapse in Texas SmartBuy Book Contract 715-M2

The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts manages a contract that allows Texas libraries to purchase books, audiobooks, textbooks, audiovisual materials, and cataloging services from a number of vendors with negotiated discounts. Roughly 500 Texas libraries use this SmartBuy contract, 715-M2, and on average spend about $8 million per year on materials from the selected vendors. The contract was last bid in 2014. It expired in August 2019 and was extended through February 29, 2020. State law prohibits further extensions.

The Comptroller issued a new solicitation and is currently evaluating responses from qualifying vendors. Unfortunately, the current contract expires tomorrow, February 29, and new contracts will most likely not be in place until April 2020. Although the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is not involved in the solicitation, we are monitoring the situation as it affects us, too. To that end, we’ve put together some responses to some of the questions libraries have asked us about this contract.

  1. Why didn’t the solicitation get posted sooner to avoid any lapse?
    The Comptroller’s office was of course aware that the contract was due to expire and had begun working on drafting a new solicitation last summer. However, in analyzing data about how libraries purchase materials, they realized that they needed to look more closely at changes in the publishing industry. They reviewed solicitations by other states and interviewed individual providers to find out what did and didn’t work. They also looked at whether e-books and additional services of interest to libraries could be included, eventually deciding to leave those materials out of the solicitation. In the end, the solicitation couldn’t be posted early enough to avoid interruption.
     
  2. What vendors are affected?
    The vendors with lapsed contracts are:
    • Baker & Taylor, LLC
    • Brodart Company
    • Complete Book & Media Supply, LLC
    • Findaway World, LLC
    • Ingram Library Services, Inc
    • Midwest Library Service
    • Midwest Tape, LLC
    • Proquest, LLC
    • Taped Editions dba Tei Landmark Audio
    • Textbook Warehouse 
       
  3. How much were the discounts?
    The discounts varied by vendor and by category. The most recent price list is attached to this post. New discount rates will not be available until awards are complete.
     
  4. What will change with the new solicitation?
    It’s hard to know for sure, but all of the categories of materials that were included in the old contracts are included in the new solicitation. Vinyl records were added as a category. Brief MARC records must now be included at no charge. Item processing services, like mylar jackets, DVD/CD cases, RFID and theft deterrent strips, are now broken out, which may simplify ordering. The contract will also be brought up to date with various elements of Texas purchasing law.
     
  5. What can we do while there is no contract in place?
    Libraries have reported that their vendors plan to honor the discounts included in the expired contract. Please contact your vendors for more information.
     
  6.  Are libraries required to purchase materials from this contract?
    TSLAC and other state agencies (including public universities) are required to use the Comptroller’s contracts first. The expectation is that the Comptroller is able to negotiate better pricing than any single institution would be able to get on its own. Exemptions apply for things like the TexShare databases and other resource sharing items.

    For local governments, Comptroller contracts are basically a convenience. This includes most public libraries and school libraries in the state. Local Government Code section 252.022 provides an exemption for “a purchase of rare books, papers, and other library materials for a public library” along with many other exemptions. This is pretty broad, and basically gives libraries the freedom to purchase library materials in the way that seems best to them, if the amount of the purchases is under $50,000. Purchases over $50,000 may require you to do your own solicitation.

We’ll post something on this blog as soon as the new contracts are announced. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at ld@tsl.texas.gov.

Attachment: Texas SmartBuy contract 715-M2 (Excel)