The Belleville Public Library is rolling out a new service to bring the Internet to people who don’t have it.
Library card holders can now check out one of 36 hot spots — Wi-Fi units — for up to a month at a time. Borrowing the units is free, and so is the data.
“(The bandwidth is) more than adequate for one device,” library director Lee Spearman said, but they aren’t meant to support streaming TVs or video games.
Instead, the hot spots are primarily for people who don’t have access to the Internet, which is often necessary for a variety tasks, including finding and applying for jobs.
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Some people are at the library all day working, Spearman said, but they still have stuff to do after the library closes. Now, they’ll be able to finish their work when they can.
The hot spots can also be taken on the road, out of Belleville and the state. But if you lose one, they cost $200 apiece to replace.
Businesses can also check out the hot spots. Although wireless Internet exists downtown, it can be crowded, and because it’s public, it can also be unsafe.
In fact, the hot spots had a trial run during the month-long Christkindlmarkt, which ran Nov. 26 through Dec. 23 in downtown Belleville.
“It’s great that the city had something like that,” Christkindlmarkt organizer Carole Piontkowski said.
“They all loved it,” she said of the vendors. “It was very, very easy to use.”
It was Katheryne Morschl, of the Siostra Polish Pottery & Gifts, in St. Charles, who made the suggestion for hot spots after the 2015 Christkindlmarkt.
“It was amazing,” she said. “It really helped.”
Before the hot spot, Morschl relied on the city’s Wi-Fi, but it was slow, and, when that wasn’t enough, she had to use data from her personal plan.
With the hot spots, she was able to make quicker business transactions, and it also allowed her to use the slower hours of the Christmas market to catch up on paperwork, interact with people on Facebook, promote her business and prepare shipping labels, she said.
“(It was) really generous of them to offer that,” she said of the library’s help.
(The bandwidth is) more than adequate for one device.
Belleville library director Lee Spearman
The hot spots were purchased with money left to the library in a $15,000 trust after the donor died, Spearman said. The rest of the expenses, including the first year of data — the library gets a corporate rate, which is cheaper than individuals receive — were subsidized with revenue from the library’s general fund, which Spearman said could continue to support the initiative.
The hot spots are the first part in a series of upcoming programs he’s writing to improve and expand the library’s services.
The second phase of the grant is to link several hot spots with designated computers, which would benefit those who have access to neither.
On Wednesday, Spearman announced that Lowe’s, the home-improvement store, donated $10,000 to the library, which will buy 15 laptops for the hot-spot program.
That grant also included money to allow the library to purchase a “high-end Resign 3D printer,” according to a statement from Lowe’s and the library.
The library currently has a three-dimensional printer, which supports local engineers who might not have the money to purchase a dedicated one of their own. The new 3-D printer, Spearman said, is an improvement on the old one, the same type that is used to create medical models and dental molds.
The library charges for use of the 3-D printer by the weight of the object produced, Spearman said. One gram of material will cost 20 cents, and a quarter is 5.6 grams, he explained.
The Belleville library director is also writing grants to improve community outreach.
One program seeks to expand “little libraries” to places where people gather who might not have access to a regular library. Each little library is a small cabinet full of books that people can swap with others. Spearman is looking for 10 partners for the project, one of which has already committed, the Community Interfaith Food Pantry, in Belleville.
The pantry has 10 boxes of books ready to stock the little library, according to Roger Hanke, who works there. The cabinet will be near the entrance at eye-level, and the door will be see-through, so children, who often accompany their parents on monthly food pickups, will be able to see what’s inside.
Spearman is also trying to establish a Human Library, based on a program widely adopted around the world, to enable people to check out a person who can tell them his or her life’s story. The program began in Denmark in 2000, and featured more than 1,000 “readers.”
“The original event was open eight hours a day for four days straight and featured over 50 different titles,” according to the Human Library’s website. “The broad selection of books provided readers with ample choice to challenge their stereotypes and so they did.”
The Human Library is free and not part of an official grant. He is currently recruiting people to participate.