Boston Public Library to reopen for computer use amid COVID-19 pandemic; 9 branches to provide internet through outdoor Wi-Fi program

Noble Horvath

What lies beyond the pandemic? MassForward is MassLive’s series examining the journey of Massachusetts’ small businesses through and beyond the coronavirus pandemic. __________________ Having internet access in Boston may just become a little bit easier because of a new program launched by the city this week. The Boston Public […]

What lies beyond the pandemic? MassForward is MassLive’s series examining the journey of Massachusetts’ small businesses through and beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

__________________

Having internet access in Boston may just become a little bit easier because of a new program launched by the city this week.

The Boston Public Library will soon reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic to allow residents to use computers at its main Copley Square location, Mayor Marty Walsh announced Tuesday.

As part of the public computer access program, patrons will be able to set up two-hour appointments to use computers in a socially distance spaced within the Central Library, the mayor said in a statement.

Another initiative Walsh announced Tuesday, called the outdoor Wi-Fi program, will also provide 24-hour outdoor internet access at nine other Boston Public Library branch locations throughout the city, allowing users to socially distance while browsing online.

The two initiatives, which will run for the “foreseeable future,” are designed to help bridge the “digital equity gap” in Boston and help residents cope with the COVID-19 public health crisis, the mayor noted.

“Boston’s libraries play a vital role in our communities by providing digital access to all,” Walsh said in a statement. “Digital access at the BPL helps Boston residents find jobs, attend classes, download e-books or just check email and read the news.”

As the coronavirus outbreak ramped up across the United States in March, Boston’s more than two dozen public library branches were closed. City officials said they would waive all late fees until May and let residents keep their books and other library materials for 15 weeks.

In mid-August, the Central Library and 25 neighborhood branches officially reopened for to-go services during the pandemic. Residents are able to pick up and return books, CDs, DVDs and other items. They can also submit documents to be printed at nearly all of the library locations.

The public computer access program will be the first program since the start of the COVID-19 public health crisis that allows patrons to use facilities inside the library building, according to the mayor.

The initiative allows teenage and adult patrons to book appointments on the BPL website or by phone at (617) 536-5400. Computers are available for booking Monday to Thursday during the following time slots: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., 1 to 3 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.

Total space is limited to 10 people, and patrons are only allowed to make one reservation per day, according to Walsh’s office.

Those inside the library are also required to physically distance and wear masks at all times. Computers will be sanitized between two-hour appointment slots.

The outdoor Wi-Fi program will set up internet access points outside nine BPL branch locations, including Mattapan, Codman Square, Parker Hill, Hyde Park, Grove Hall, Egleston Square, East Boston, Honan-Allston and the South End.

The locations were chosen based on data about at-home broadband access, household income and the availability of nearby outdoor seating, the mayor said.

Outdoor areas near the BPL branches, like parks and parking lots, are available for public use. To access the internet, people need to bring their own devices and maintain physical distancing. There is no time limit for someone’s Wi-Fi use.

Boston Public Library President David Leonard said closing the digital equity gap, as he and the mayor called it, requires access to devices and connectivity.

“Public computer access and extended outdoor Wi-Fi at branches are more ways to increase public access and remove barriers to opportunity. Inside or out, our buildings are there for the local community,” Leonard said.

Related Content:

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Pilot program seeks to offer learning pods for Boston Public Schools students enrolled in remote learning

‘I do’ during coronavirus pandemic: Boston Public Library unveils creative wedding package for social distancing ceremonies

Coronavirus in Massachusetts: Construction in Boston halted, Boston Public Library closed

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