Soon Your Local Library Could Let You Borrow the Internet

Forget dog-eared copies of Fifty Shades of Grey: Library visitors will soon be able to check the entire Internet out from their local branch.

The Knight Foundation announced grants for programs at the Chicago Public Library and the New York Public Library to lend wireless hotspots to residents. If these programs take off, other libraries will likely adopt similar lending systems.

The Chicago Public Library's "Internet To Go" program will offer Wi-Fi hotspots from six libraries located in communities with low broadband adoption rates, lending for three weeks at a time. In New York, the "Check Out The Internet" project offers year-long hotspot rentals, also focusing on households without Internet access. People who want to participate just to have an extra hotspot handy should hold off: Right now, the programs are honed in on getting people without home access a chance to log in from their couch instead of a sticky library chair.

These are the first large-scale initiatives of their kind in the U.S., but the NYPL is already collaborating with the state libraries of Kansas and Maine to see how a similar program could work in less densely populated areas.

Google and Facebook both have wide-scale, lofty projects aimed at establishing universal Internet access (Google with Project Loon and Facebook with Internet.org). They want to deliver access to people in remote or underdeveloped regions, by balloon, drone, laser, or any means necessary.

With two of the most high-profile tech companies championing universal Internet access, it's jarring that these library projects are necessary in the country where both Google and Facebook started. Even in countries with highly developed infrastructure, like the U.S., substantial pockets of the population lack Internet access. [City Lab]