Western Illinois University (WIU) has partnered with four local community libraries to establish the ‘Chromebook Lending Program’ to help close the state’s digital divide as telework and online learning continue to boost demand for devices.
The program will provide 16 LTE Chromebooks to Illinois public libraries in Salem, Quincy, Rushville, and Macomb, thanks to funding from the Illinois Department of Commerce, the Economic Opportunity Office of Broadband, and the Illinois Innovation Network. The program provides borrowers access to a digital device and free internet access, without a subscription from a service provider.
“WIU is working with community libraries because our institution has a long tradition of working with rural communities to ensure access to knowledge and technology,” Chris Merrett, WIU dean of innovation and economic development and director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, said in a press release.
WIU partnered with the Illinois Heartland Library System (IHLS) and the Reaching Across Illinois Library Systems (RAILS) – which help manage community libraries – to select the libraries that would participate in the lending program.
Community libraries were invited to apply to host the Chromebook lending program, and WIU, IHLS, and RAILS selected libraries based on application quality, combined with their community broadband needs as identified by a community digital divide index.
According to representatives from the IHLS and RAILS, they received far more applications than they had Chromebooks to share, painting a clear picture that there is a need for a lending program like this, as a digital divide exists.
The lending programs will be ready before the new school year starts in August 2022.