Delaware’s libraries have begun a $650,000 project to increase access to technology and health care.
The Telehealth Kiosk and Device Loaning Initiative started with three kiosks for patrons (in the Seaford, Laurel and Milford libraries) and more than 500 Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots that can be checked out. There are also plans for nurses traveling to rural Sussex County libraries.
“This is the first statewide library-led telehealth initiative in the country,” said Nick Martin, emerging tech and telehealth consultant for the Delaware Division of Libraries.
Confidential telehealth visits are front and center for the kiosks, which can be used for other situations calling for privacy and high-speed Internet access, such as digital job interviews, legal appointments and meetings with government representatives offering social services.
The Chromebooks and hotspots are being touted to bridge the digital divide – the idea the underserved families need help in accessing what’s online, particularly for students’ homework.
“We hope the traveling nurse program will be able to provide care to our most underserved communities, including underinsured/uninsured patrons, undocumented Delawareans, those with physical mobility limitations, and so on,” he said.
Delaware has three dozen libraries, run by a dozen entities, with varying ways to operate.
“The Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots are available at almost all public libraries in the state,” Martin said, suggesting that those interested reach out to their nearest library to borrow either.
New Castle County, for instance, said that it will have nine Chromebooks and five Wi-Fi hotspots at each county-run brunch and that “contract libraries may also have devices available for checkout.”
The county branches are Appoquinimink, Bear, Brandywine Hundred, Claymont, Elsmere, Hockessin, Kirkwood, Newark, Route 9 and Woodlawn. Corbit-Calloway, Delaware City and New Castle are contract libraries. Rodney Square and North Wilmington are Wilmington Institute libraries.
A search of the term “realia” on the Delaware library catalog finds several dozen listings, including the Chromebooks and hotpots, plus USB sticks, headphones, computer cables and floppy drives.
Checkout guidelines in New Castle County
In announcing its participation, New Castle County set up multiple checkout guidelines:
• Patrons must at least 18, with a Delaware public library card in good standing.
• Patrons must fill out a pre-device survey and sign a user agreement.
• Chromebooks and hotspots can be checked out for seven days, with up to three renewals if no other holds exist.
• Patrons can place local holds only on Chromebooks. They will not be delivered to another library.
• Devices must be checked out and returned in person at the same library.
• Wi-Fi hotspots are limited to one per household.
• Chromebooks are limited to one per person.
• Overdue devices will be deactivated and locked.
The system has raised more than $650,000 from Barclays US Consumer Bank, the Delaware Community Foundation, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Crystal Trust Foundation, Discover Bank, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware, the Longwood Foundation and the Welfare Foundation. The Department of Health and Social Services is funneling money from the federal CARES Act to cope with the pandemic, Martin said.
“Libraries play an important role in providing computer and internet access to the community,” County Executive Matthew Meyer said in a statement. “By offering Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots for checkout, we are helping to meet an essential need and are providing important tools to help our community recover from the pandemic.”
Many libraries already have hotspots in their parking lots.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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