The citywide closure of public libraries has posed a problem for people who depend on them for internet and computer access. Now, the Denver Public Library is finding alternative ways to meet those needs.
On Tuesday, DPL launched a laptop rental service from a stand outside of its Central location on 13th and Broadway. Tuesdays through Fridays from 12 to 3 p.m., patrons will be able to check out computer workstations for 30 minutes at a time.
The library will also be rolling out laptop rental stands at four additional DPL branches in the coming weeks. Each location will offer four to eight walk-up workstations placed six feet apart, each outfitted with a Chromebook. Patrons can book the computers on a first-come, first-served basis, no library card necessary. The stands will also offer free black and white printing.
“We’re always looking for ways to bridge the digital divide,” said Olivia Gallegos, DPL’s communications manager. “So we’re really excited that we can provide this tool in a safe and responsible manner for people who really need it right now.”
This new service is particularly important to members of the unhoused community. Public libraries have long been a place for people experiencing homelessness to check email, to apply for jobs and medical care and to search for housing and other resources. When libraries shut down in the spring to try to curb the spread of COVID-19, those resources were all stripped away. And in the wake of the economic crisis, many unhoused people have been unable to apply for stimulus checks or file for unemployment.
“There’s really almost no other options for people who need computer access in the city,” said Tracy Treece, the library’s Digital Inclusion Manager. “So being able to help people meet some of those basic needs is great.”
The library’s staff have relied mainly on word-of-mouth to inform patrons about the laptop rental stations. Still, at 11:50 a.m. Tuesday, ten minutes before the work stations officially opened, a line was already forming.
Pharris Washington, 25, had been checking to see if the library was open when he stumbled upon the stand. He said he needed a computer to get his social security information, to apply for a stimulus check and to set up a website to promote his music. The library staff offered him a snack and a bottle of water before he took his place in line.
“They care about the people, the community,” Washington said. He noted the risk the library staff are taking by engaging with the community during a pandemic. “They’ve got guts coming out here.”
The laptop rental service is just one of the library’s efforts to engage the community from a distance. DPL’s Community Outreach and Mobile Services teams have joined forces to address the challenges facing library patrons through a series of outreach efforts, including visits to nearby parks to distribute free books and water bottles and to ask what’s needed from the library. Since mid-April, the library’s Bookmobile has also been visiting various DPS food distribution locations and handing out free book bundles to families based on age group and reading level.
Rachel Fewell, the Central Library Administrator, said she and her staff had been a bit nervous before opening the computer service stand. They’d been working from home since the library’s closure and didn’t know how it would feel to work with people again. Now, after checking in with her staff, Fewell believes those nerves have fallen away.
“Most people just said, ‘It feels awesome,'” Fewell said. “It feels so great to get to be back with our customers.”
Need a computer? Schedule below:
- Central: available Tuesday-Friday from 12-3 p.m.
- Hadley: launches, Tuesday, 7/21; available Tuesday-Friday from 12-4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Valdez-Perry: launches, Tuesday, 7/21; available Tuesday-Friday from 2-5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Montbello: launches, Tuesday, 7/21; available Tuesday-Friday from 12-3 p.m.
- Green Valley Ranch: launches, Tuesday, 7/21; available Tuesday-Friday 12-3 p.m.