Northeast Tarrant

Check out the internet: North Texas libraries offer mobile hot spots

Keller Library Services Manager Rae Cheney shows off one of the library’s new hotspot devices.
Keller Library Services Manager Rae Cheney shows off one of the library’s new hotspot devices. Special to the Star-Telegram

Books and videos have long been available to be checked out at libraries across North Texas.

At least two libraries have added internet to the mix.

Libraries in Keller and Mansfield are among the first in Texas to allow patrons to check out mobile wireless hot spots.

“We don’t want to make the mistake of assuming everyone in Keller can afford the internet,” said Rae Cheney, library services manager.

Cheney said that people will sit outside the library with their laptops before and after hours in all kinds of weather to use the free Wi-Fi. The mobile hotspots — cellphone-size devices that provide high-speed Internet connections — are an extension of that service.

Keller allows a standard three-week checkout period, while Mansfield allows one week. In Keller, if no one is on the waiting list, the borrower can renew for an additional three weeks. Both cities shut off the data supply if the hot spots are overdue.

Keller has 20 hot spots and Mansfield 22.

All of Keller’s devices were snapped up within 48 hours, and a waiting list was started.

Yolando Botello, Mansfield’s youth services librarian, said in the first week six were checked out — and that's before the word got out.

“The reality is that not everybody has the internet at home,” Botello said.

Keller gets its hot spots through a special library program with Sprint, while Mansfield uses Verizon. Both Internet providers charge $34 per device and around $10,000 for a year of unlimited data for all devices.

“You can take it on vacation anywhere Verizon has a network,” Botello said.

A recent Keller school district survey showed that close to 95 percent of the 34,000 students have internet access at home. Mansfield officials say about 35 percent of the city’s homes have no internet.

Cheney said that Keller is attracting more senior citizens, many of whom are on fixed incomes and may not have home internet access.

So far, the Keller program has proved popular for those who have had internet outages due to the Frontier takeover of Verizon Fios, people who are new to the city, patrons going on vacation who want a free portable way to get online and those who can’t afford home service, she said.

The devices come with filters that make them safe for children to use.

“It’s an incredible service to be able to provide for not much money,” she said.

Cheney said that Keller’s program is funded through a six-month grant from the Friends of the Keller Library. If it proves popular, officials hope to make it permanent.

Mansfield purchased 22 padded orange boxes that contain the hot spot, password, directions, charger and USB plug. Up to 10 people can connect to one hot spot, Botello said. Verizon provided the service with no startup fees, she said.

Botello especially wants to help students in the Mansfield school district who don't have the internet in their homes.

“We want to have some held for students that need them,” she said. “We haven’t really figured it out. Ideally, they would have them for the semester.”

John Signo of Keller was one of the first patrons to borrow a hot spot. He is part of networking and support groups for managers seeking employment. The hot spot allows him to access tutorials, videos and other online resources for the groups without running up the bill on his own cellphone or using a public network with a slow connection.

“We now have a tool to help us get our job done, and our job is to get a job,” Signo said.

Julie Todaro, president-elect of the American Library Association, said that several large urban libraries began providing mobile hot spots about two years ago.

New York, Chicago and Kansas City, Mo., libraries all have successful programs. A lot of school districts and community colleges also are beginning to loan out mobile hot spots for a school year or semester to economically disadvantaged students, Todaro said.

“I think it will take off across the country,” Todaro said.

Staff writer Amanda Rogers contributed to this report.

Sandra J. Engelland: 817-390-7323, @SandraEngelland