HONESDALE, PA — In a county where many residents don’t have access to high-speed internet, the local libraries have acted as oases of broadband for years. Now, thanks to federal funding …
HONESDALE, PA — In a county where many residents don’t have access to high-speed internet, the local libraries have acted as oases of broadband for years. Now, thanks to federal funding through the CARES Act, Wayne County residents can check out devices known as “smart spots” and bring the internet home with them.
Expanding broadband access for residents has long been a top priority for Wayne Tomorrow, the county’s public-private community and economic development strategy group. It’s an even bigger deal during the pandemic, with many students learning from home, business owners and employees working remotely and the health system encouraging residents to use the internet for COVID-19 vaccine registration. Wayne County Public Library Director Tracy Schwarz said that the idea for smart spots was born out of a Wayne Tomorrow meeting to discuss internet connectivity issues and solutions.
“When we left, I know there was a great frustration level about what was actually going to happen to get internet into homes in a timely fashion, to help students, to help business people, everyone, during COVID and just always,” Schwarz said. “This has always been an issue for us.”
Schwarz said that she had an “outside-the-box” idea to purchase smart spots, which are mobile phone or tablet devices that double as sources of internet access. The devices themselves can be used to directly use the internet, but they can also be used to provide access to up to eight devices in a household.
Schwarz was only planning on applying to purchase 20 devices, but with CARES Act funding available, she was encouraged to apply for 60 and received the grant to do so. Six devices are available at each of the county’s seven public libraries; the rest are kept on hold for emergencies or events.
Once the devices were purchased, they immediately proved their usefulness when Schwarz contracted COVID-19 and had to run the library system from home.
“I don’t have internet, not because I couldn’t afford to get it, just because I couldn’t get a company to run it up there,” she said. “I ran the library from home using one of these devices.”
Schwarz shared some of the other success stories since these devices were purchased, as in the case of a woman who was evicted from her home and had to figure out how her children could continue to attend school virtually. The local library set her up with a library card and two of these devices within a day. Wayne Memorial Health System also reached out about how these devices could help with vaccine distribution; they checked out six to help run a clinic in the old Rusty Palmers parking lot.
“These can be checked out to business travelers, to summer people coming here who don’t want to have to pay for internet in their Airbnb,” Schwarz said. “Think of the possibilities, camps and the counselors, school district staff, anyone who needs it.”
The Wayne County Commissioners, the board that divvied up the CARES Act grants, was pleased to see how the investment was being put to use.
“You really have changed the game entirely for what your library provides to the public,” chairman Brian Smith said. “Years ago, we asked the library to step it up and see what you can do to function as part of society, and you really have done that, I mean it’s really amazing.”
Smart spots are available for checkout in all Wayne County public libraries, with locations in Honesdale, Hamlin, Hawley, Newfoundland, Pleasant Mount, Lakewood and Bethany.