The New York Public Library wants to bridge the digital divide among area residents not only during normal business hours, but also long after its doors have closed for the day.
Through a pilot program set to launch in September, the nation’s largest public library system will loan portable Wi-Fi hot spot devices to some 10,000 households with limited Internet access. The devices will be provided to residents on a first-come basis across the library’s 92 branches. About 27 percent of households in the area lack broadband access.
The library system will fund its Check Out the Internet program using a $500,000 award it received as a 2014 Knight News Challenge winner, according to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The foundation partnered with the Ford Foundation and Mozilla Foundation to give away $3.4 million that will fund 19 projects aimed at promoting a free and open Internet.
“The winning projects strengthen or defend the power of the Internet to inform communities and help innovation thrive; they help build a more inclusive, open Internet that represents diverse voices and ideas,” Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president of journalism and media innovation, said once the award winners were announced.
The Chicago Public Library also was named a winner and received a $400,000 award for its Internet to Go project. The library will loan residents Wi-Fi hot spots, netbooks and tablet computers for up to three weeks at a time. Residents will also have access to one-on-one digital literacy sessions, skills coaching and online tutorials. The goal is to test, refine and expand the project to more people.
Here are a few of the other 2014 Knight News Challenge winners:
• New America Foundation created a system for “benchmarking and ranking the world’s most powerful tech companies on how well they protect” online users' free expression and privacy.
• Open Whisper Systems developed TextSecure, a secure messaging application for safeguarding mobile text communication. The Android version of the app has hundreds of thousands of active users, and developers are expanding the app to more mobile devices.
• Code2040 will offer a new iteration of the CODE2040 Fellows Program, which “matches black and Latino software developers with internships at tech companies” and provides them with a “robust leadership development curriculum.” Lessons from the Fellows Program will also be used to develop a curriculum for thousands of computer science students of color nationwide.