WBRL loaning tablets, laptops after COVID-19 restrictions showed tech access a struggle for many


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The Wood Buffalo Regional Library (WBRL) is launching Tech to Go, a service allowing library card holders to take home tablets and laptops for a three-week loan period.

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The library realized there was a need for the program during the COVID-19 pandemic. WBRL often provides a role for people who do not have reliable internet or computers. Many people will come in to work on a resume, fill out a job application or file paperwork, for instance.

But when restrictions forced the library to close, WBRL heard from patrons and local organizations that it had become difficult finding those services elsewhere. Even when those people had a smartphone, there are some tasks that are easier to do on a proper computer or tablet.

“There’s a misconception that because we are such a technology-forward society now, that everybody has access and everybody can afford to buy their own iPhone, their own iPad, their own laptop and that’s really not the case,” said WBRL assistant director Lindsay McFarlane. “We see that every day when people come in to use the public computers in the library.”

The library was just one community group that saw how some people have few options for computers and the internet. All school divisions in Fort McMurray and the rural areas loaned laptops to students without regular access to a computer. Limited rural internet speeds were made more apparent as people began spending more time at home.

The library has lent out iPads and Chromebooks in the past, but McFarlane said those models were outdated and needed to be replaced. The funding comes from a $40,000 grant from the Government of Canada’s Healthy Communities Initiative, in coordination with Wood Buffalo Community Foundation and Community Foundations of Canada.

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“We wanted to apply for this grant in order to be able to lend some of that technology out and be able to provide it at people’s point of need,” said McFarlane. “People can take it home, use it from the comfort of their living room or in a café or wherever they happen to be and then bring it back so the next person can use it.”

Chromebooks, Lenovo ideapad Laptops and MacBook Airs will be available. iPad pro, air and mini models are also available. The grant will support buying 30 devices for the program. There are 20 available now and 10 more arriving later this summer. Wireless mouse devices, Apple pencil and iPad magic keyboards are also available.

People who borrow the devices can browse the internet and download apps, including streaming platforms. They can sign into iOS devices with their own Apple ID. Staff will wipe the devices when they are returned.

“I think that this will go towards supporting those people with accessing technology when they need it so they don’t have to keep coming back to the library,” said McFarlane. “Maybe they’re not able to get to the library during our open hours, or they’re working on something that requires a bit more time and they don’t want to spend hours here.”

lbeamish@postmedia.com



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