As access to the internet becomes increasingly integral to education, students who can't connect risk being left behind.
A recently launched program at the Delaware County District Library aims to provide students without internet access at home a chance to get connected.
Patrons with juvenile library cards now can check out bundles that include a Chromebook laptop computer, a Wi-Fi hotspot and charging cords. Each hotspot can provide internet access to up to 10 devices.
Library spokeswoman Nicole Fowles said Delaware County may have a reputation for affluence, but not every household has or can afford internet access. She said students without the ability to connect can struggle with assignments and research.
"That kind of keeps them behind," she said. "They don't have the ability to move ahead like they should."
Library IT Manager Traci Higgins said in a statement she spoke with Delaware City School District teachers and realized lack of internet access was holding certain students back.
"As I looked more deeply into the issue, I realized that connectivity is a big problem for many households in our library district, which also includes Buckeye Valley and Olentangy schools," Higgins said. "I thought there had to be something that the library could do to help close the digital divide and assist our students."
Library officials began researching and discovered Mobile Beacon's Internet Inclusion Initiative, also known as i3. The program allowed the library system to purchase hotspots at a discounted price of $20 each and contract with Sprint to provide unlimited internet access at an annual rate of $200 per hotspot.
The library system paid $450 for each Chromebook and now has 20 bundles to lend out at the main library in Delaware. Fowles said the district may attempt to secure grant funding to expand the program in the future.
Fowles said patrons also can reserve bundles at the system's branches in Orange Township, Powell and Ostrander.
Students can keep the laptops for up to two weeks. After the bundles are returned, a library staff member will wipe all personal data from the computers before they're loaned out again.
Fowles said patrons will be able to renew their loans as long as no other patrons are waiting for the devices.
The new program follows the district's move to offer Wi-Fi hotspots for checkout to adult patrons in 2015.
Fowles said loaning hotspots and laptops does not change the library's mission.
"We want to make sure that everyone can have access to information," she said.