Urban Libraries Council Recognizes Newport News Public Library for Innovation

Beyond Branches: NNPL Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Programreduced digital divide during the pandemic

Newport News Public Library (NNPL) received an Innovations Initiative Honorable Mention from the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). The annual Innovations Award competition recognizes and raises the visibility of cutting-edge programs, strategies, tools, techniques and ideas from ULC’s member library systems across the U.S. and Canada. 

The ULC recognized NNPL for the new Mobile Wi-Fi program, which was created in response to the coronavirus pandemic as city facilities, including all library branches, were closed. Library staff researched and identified “digital deserts” throughout the city, working with the GIS department to create a map of areas with the greatest need. Library staff drove to designated locations, making Wi-Fi hotspots available for at least two hours and allowing up to 30 simultaneous free connections. A schedule was distributed in advance so residents knew where they could access free Wi-Fi and signs were posted at each location with information on how to connect personal devices to the hotspots. 

Working safely from their cars, children and adults were able to complete school assignments, check email, apply for jobs or various benefits and more. The library provided more than 21 hours of service each week over three months to 180 connected devices, easing the stress of being disconnected until libraries were able to reopen. 

“As communities around the world have faced new challenges due to the coronavirus, libraries offered critical resources, support and consistency,” says Sonia Alcantara-Antoine, Director of Newport News Public Library. “Newport News Public Library’s Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Program bridged the digital divide and ensured residents could access virtual classrooms and workplaces, even when our libraries were closed to the public. This program, as well as our robust virtual programming, online resources and curbside delivery, help people remain connected and engaged during this time of social distancing.”

NNPL’s Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Program was selected by a panel of expert judges from 260 submissions in 10 categories that showcase creative thinking and imaginative applications of library resources. The library won in the category of Digital Citizenship, with award winners being recognized for their level of ingenuity, outcomes achieved and the ability for other libraries to adapt and implement their work. For more information on the Urban Libraries Council or to view the 2020 ULC Innovations winners, visit urbanlibraries.org.