Harris County Public Library (HCPL) branches are currently closed due to the Covid-19 Stay Home, Work Safe Order, but they continue to provide much-needed services to their communities. This now includes drive-up Wi-Fi connection at most HCPL branch locations. HCPL’s Information Technology Division recently adapted existing in-library Wi-Fi equipment to allow residents to access the internet while still maintaining recommended social distancing.
“There is no doubt that Covid-19 public health measures have had a more disruptive impact on lower-income families,” said HCPL Executive Director Edward Melton, “Families without in-home internet are struggling to keep up with children’s schoolwork and to stay connected with employers. HCPL’s free drive-up Wi-Fi gives those families a safe and free option.”
As much as possible, HCPL has oriented the Wi-Fi signals to be strongest in the libraries’ parking lots, so that users can remain in their cars while using the internet service. No password or library card number is required. Because Lone Star College (LSC) campuses are currently closed to the public, drive-up Wi-Fi is not available at LSC - CyFair Branch Library and LSC - Tomball Community Library.
In addition to drive-up Wi-Fi, HCPL has turned to social media to deliver the programs it normally presents in-library. Since Harris County’s Stay Home, Work Safe Order went into effect in mid-March, HCPL has produced over three hundred videos including Story Times, Crafts and How-tos, book talks, online research tool tutorials, and even virtual Easter Egg hunts.
“We know that a lot of people across Harris County, especially kids and teens, have real connections with library staff, and in these uncertain times, we wanted to make sure they could continue to see those familiar faces,” said Melton, “Our librarians have embraced online programming in a big way from video Story Times to interactive streaming Anime Clubs.”
HCPL has long been a leader among public libraries in building a robust digital media catalog including downloadable eBooks, audiobooks and streaming movies. It was the first public library in Texas to circulate one million eBooks in a calendar year and checked out 2.7 million eBooks last year. HCPL patrons are reaping the benefits of HCPL’s early and continued investment in those resources now that print materials are not available during library Covid-19-related library closures.