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Butte library trying to bridge the 'digital divide' with free WiFi access

Posted at 10:57 AM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 12:57:35-04

BUTTE — People who use the Butte Public Library are often there for more than just books.

Access to the internet is an important service the library offers – especially in today’s world.

“Well, there are some companies now that only take applications over the internet and, like, unemployment, it’s all on-line now,” said Butte librarian Shari Curtis.

The library is continuing a state program that allows people to check out mobile WiFi devices called Jetpacks to give them access to the internet for two weeks. Many people can’t afford internet services or don’t have a permanent residence.

The library also has computers are available for those wanting access for a variety of reasons.

“We’ve been helping a lot of people with unemployment because the job services closed. Like we even set up a computer over there where the patron can sit on one side and you can be on the other side and they can see what we’re doing on the computer,” said Curtis.


The pandemic has made this service even more important. Still, libraries are not new to the computer game.

“Librarians were figuring out in 1971 how to use computers to make libraries more useable. We’re like some of the first to go, ‘hey, that’s a good idea'!” said Curtis.

The Butte library is trying to bridge that digital divide, whereas people of lower economic classes don’t get left behind in a world that’s relying more and more on digital technology.

“Are we leaving behind people who don’t have ready access to the internet? Everyone’s like, ‘oh, put it on-line, it will be fine,’ but if you don’t have access to the internet, or if you're homeless and don’t have a regular place to sleep then, you know, that’s where the libraries really stepped up and said, ‘well, you know, we’ll offer free WiFi, free computers,’” said Curtis.

The Jetpack program ends this summer, so the Butte library is looking for sponsors to keep it going.