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'It's very rewarding work' | Hennepin County Libraries tackle tech disparities

Library leaders say between a quarter and a third of households in Hennepin County don't have access to home broadband.

MINNEAPOLIS — Countless people come to Minneapolis Central Library to check out a book, surf the web or even escape the hot summer air.

Library staff is nearby – waiting to serve you in any way possible so you can leave with your needs met, even if those needs take a little longer to figure out.

County employees like Crystal Hunter-Porte have been learning about the problems impacting the people who walk through the doors. Some days it's the heat, but other days, it's access to the internet.

"The digital divide is huge. I don't see it disappearing any time soon," said Hunter-Porte.

Library leaders say between a quarter and a third of households in Hennepin County don't have access to home broadband.

Hunter-Porte and her team have been helping fix that problem through the Digital Navigation Program. It's a new service at Hennepin County Libraries that connects people to internet resources.

"I'm excited because I know what this provides our residents," said Hunter-Porte.

Hennepin County residents who don't have internet access can come to any of the county's 41 libraries and submit an internet request form. 

That form goes directly to digital navigators who will meet one-on-one with you and help with your technology needs.

Currently, digital navigators can meet at eight of the 41 county libraries.

Hunter-Porte says devices, internet connectivity and digital literacy are the priority.

Say you need a device like a hotspot or a computer. Hunter-Porte and her team will ensure you get that device set up and check in several times to ensure success.

You can lease a hotspot for three months with the possibility of an extension based on your needs. If you're eligible for a computer, that becomes your personal property.

"But the ultimate goal is internet service enrollment so that they don't have to rely on a hotspot for internet connectivity," said Hunter-Porte. 

Sometimes, this process can take a few months.

Hunter-Porte went on to say, "We have unsheltered residents, so they don't have that option immediately for internet service enrollment." 

Digital navigators also provide digital literacy (internet safety and privacy refreshers) with each interaction.

Even though the process can take some time, Hunter-Porte says the results can be life-changing for many.

"Getting that connectivity is not a luxury anymore; it's a necessity," she said.

Whether it's grabbing a book or getting a hotspot, a library near you is willing to put in the work to make sure you're well and connected.

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