County libraries offering Wi-Fi hotspots, COVID-19 protection


CLAY COUNTY – All residents need to get free Wi-Fi for up to two weeks is a library card, thanks to a new county program.

The Clay County library system received a grant this year for $9,000 that allowed them to purchase 25 Kajeet SmartSpot Wi-Fi devices. The devices look like a deck of cards that create standalone Wi-Fi hotspots for users to access so that they can stream videos, surf the web and play games, although its original purpose was more educational.

“Kajeet Incorporated is an educational company and so this product is more centered on those looking to access the internet for educational purposes,” Assistant Director of Library Support Services Jason Black said. “It has automatic filters on it but if someone wants to access something blocked on it, they can contact us and we can unblock that site.”

Library services director Karen Walker said the device is especially helpful now as thousands of students are currently attending school from home as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that 17% of residents in Clay County have limited or no access to the internet and that these SmartSpot Wi-Fi devices look to mitigate that.

There are currently 25 devices that can be checked out, and all that’s required is a Clay County library card. You must also be at least 18 years old. She said 15 are currently checked out with another eight on hold.

“It’s been a success in my eyes and we’re looking to get more should the demand and funding for it exist,” Walker said.

The devices can be checked out of the Green Cove Springs, Middleburg and Keystone Heights libraries. Those locations were picked because research has shown it has the highest density of no-internet-access residents live. Black said the device also doubles as a great tool for those looking to get back on their feet after losing a job as a result of COVID-19.

“You know, when we originally bought these, they were for educational purposes and to help those without internet gain access, but now, because of COVID-19, people can use them to search for jobs or apply for government help,” she said.

The devices can be checked out on a two-week basis and Assistant Director of Programs, Activities and Outreach Lynn Capps said that the library also is open for internet needs.

“People need access to computers,” Capps said. “It’s so necessary right now with everything going on and we’re happy that we can provide remote access with the [SmartSpot] devices and with our computers here in our branches.”

Walker said Clay County libraries were closed earlier this year when the coronavirus was surging, they’ve reopened when the number of positive cases flattened. Safety measures at branches included the removal of cloth furniture, the removal of more communal furniture, and of course, lots of sanitization.

It’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself seated within six feet of a stranger because of the way chairs, computers, reading nooks and furniture are arranged, but Walker said if you come in with a group of people and want to be together, additional furniture can be brought out so that everyone can sit together.

“We were so happy to be able to open our doors again,” Walker said. “People were happy we did, too, based on what we had heard. It was great to come back.”


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