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Contra Costa County libraries to offer Wi-Fi hotspots

Contra Costa County libraries to offer Wi-Fi hotspots

As the prolonged coronavirus pandemic forces communities to engage in civic life exclusively through the internet, the Contra Costa County Library says it wants to meet the moment.

The library system has begun allowing residents to check out portable Wi-Fi hotspots that enable internet access, its latest effort to be useful to an increasingly digital community. Smartphones, laptops and tablets — up to 10 at a time — can connect to the hotspot devices.

Last year, the library began offering Raspberry Pi computers that teach users how to code and began distributing face masks created on 3-D printers to guard against the coronavirus.

“We’re really focused on online resources,” said library spokeswoman Brooke Converse in an interview. “(The pandemic) forced us to pivot very quickly and learn to do things remotely that we never thought about, or had time to do, before.”

The hotspots, purchased from T-Mobile, can be checked out for 21 days at a time and later renewed. Library cardholders can head to the library’s website at or call staff at any open branches to place orders.

Most library branches in Contra Costa County, including the Orinda Library, are open only for front-door services because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group) 

Currently, 24 of the library’s 26 branches are open for front-door service — the Ygnacio Valley branch in Walnut Creek and Pinole branch are being used as COVID-19 testing sites.

The library system, funded mainly by local property taxes, has not been immune from the pandemic’s financial impacts. Last year, Contra Costa County supervisors voted to cut dozens of jobs and reduce operating hours at several of the system’s branches.

In a true sign of the times, library officials have also been dealt blows in the digital realm. At the start of 2020, shortly before the pandemic struck the U.S., the library system fell victim to a cyber-attack that downed online services for weeks, though officials said that users’ personal information was not compromised.

Part of the library’s recent shift to digital is to make in-person services easier: The website guides users through placing book orders for physical pickup. But the library system also has invested heavily in e-book supplies, online news subscriptions and virtual reading events, Converse said.

And while the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines could allow libraries to reopen indoors at some point in the future, the spokeswoman said officials don’t expect the system to revert entirely back to a fully in-person model.

“For a while, people are going to be a little hesitant to completely re-enter society the way they did before,” she said. “But there are a lot of people who miss being inside the library. We’d like to get back to doing that at some point to; the communities we serve are varied and we want to provide services that speak to everyone.”

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