June 26, 2017

Broward County Library Pilot Tackles Digital Divide

Broward County LibraryAs part of an effort to bridge the digital divide, Broward County Library (BCL), FL, in partnership with T-Mobile, the county’s Enterprise Technology Services division, CareerSource Broward, and the School Board of Broward County, has launched a two-year pilot program that will provide 300 tablet computers and data access plans to eligible residents of the Broward Municipal Services District (BMSD).

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief requested the development of the pilot, noting that many families do not have sufficient income to afford computer equipment or Internet access, and that this poses barriers to education and, ultimately, income growth. “For some families in our community, it is more important to put dinner on the table than to have Internet access,” she said. “But studies show conclusively that a lack of access to the digital world can adversely affect income and level of education achieved. It’s important for every family to be able to connect to the same information resources that many of us take for granted.”

Targeting households with incomes less than $36,273 that include K–12 students, the program aims to connect BMSD residents with online resources available through BCL, CareerSource Broward, and other local institutions. T-Mobile will donate the tablets, valued at $115,000, and the county will invest $93,600 to fund the data access plans for the duration of the program. At the conclusion of the two-year pilot, the program’s success will be evaluated in hopes of continuing it, according to a press announcement.

The timing is opportune. Kelvin Watson, former COO and senior VP of Queens Library, NY (QL), just took the reins as BCL’s new director on February 26. Although the pilot began taking shape prior to his appointment, the project’s contours are similar to a successful tablet lending program that Watson launched in Queens, beginning with a pilot test in 2013.

“We’re going to follow a similar model,” at BCL, Watson told LJ. Unlike QL, Broward does not currently have plans to design a custom interface for the tablets, and many of the details are still being finalized. But, similar to the program in Queens, BCL will preload the tablets with a curated selection of apps and other content.

In addition, “we plan on tying the tablets to library programming,” encouraging program participants to make regular visits to their local branch, Watson said.

Mobile device management (MDM) software will be used to configure and maintain the devices, and possibly to restrict what types of additional apps and content can be downloaded onto them. MDM can also remotely lock tablets that are not returned on time or are reported lost.

Rather than publicizing the program to patrons, BCL will work with the schools to identify students and families that meet the program’s eligibility requirements, Watson said. BMSD “is a low-income area. We only have 300 [tablets] but there are going to be a lot of people who fit the criteria—the audience that we are trying to reach,” he explained.

Participants will be required to attend an orientation to learn the basics of using the tablets. Although the checkout period has not yet been finalized, Watson said that terms ranging from six months to an entire school year were under consideration.

These relatively lengthy checkout terms are expected to help families and students to become more familiar with the tablets and online resources over time. “The goal is to provide continued access to these resources to help improve digital literacy,” Watson said.

“Our motto in the BMSD is ‘Investing in our future, improving our community,’ and that is exactly what the Digital Divide program helps us do,” Sharief said in an announcement.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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