External WiFi access improved at local libraries

Southern Tier Library System
Like this new Wi-Fi unit high on the wall of Penn Yan Public Library,  the new systems at Dundee Library and the Modeste Bedient Memorial Library in Branchport are already up and running.

YATES COUNTY — The Southern Tier Library System’s (STLS) External WiFi Access Project went live in recent weeks. All 48 public libraries within Allegany, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, and Yates counties will soon broadcast 100x100Mbps WiFi broadband internet to outdoor public spaces near a library’s physical location.

This project, which is spearheaded by STLS, the region’s public library system, is an extension of existing public broadband. Most of STLS’s member libraries have 100x100Mbps internet, which is made freely available to community members through public computers or indoor WiFi networks. Most libraries also offer some level of outdoor WiFi to assist patrons during non-library hours.

The new systems at Penn Yan Public Library,  Dundee Library, and the Modeste Bedient Memorial Library in Branchport are already up and running.

The External WiFi Access Project stems from the increased demand for outdoor WiFi usage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Libraries were forced to close in March of 2020 as a result of the state of emergency. While indoor internet usage stopped, libraries experienced an increase in demand for outdoor WiFi because community members were working and schooling from home, and many rural families did not have the broadband connections to support this change.

Libraries reopened in June of 2020, and have continued to help residents through the pandemic. Brian Hildreth, STLS executive director, states, “STLS and our region’s public libraries have always been aware of our community’s need for computer and internet access. We were the first institutions to offer public computers and dial-up connections when they became available, and we have continually evolved to expand our offerings, so all residents can fully participate in our digital society.

Our libraries empower community members through public computers, loanable laptops and hotspots, printing, copying and scanning services, online meeting spaces, workforce development resources, learning opportunities, and so much more. This outdoor WiFi project is just another living example of how public libraries foster digital equity and step-up during times of real community need.”

Total project costs equaled $224,247, or roughly $4,600 per library. Funding was made available through federal stimulus programs as well as generous support from the Corning Incorporated Foundation. The foundation provided $20,000 to get the project up and running when no support was initially provided. This enabled STLS to lay the ground work, which expanded the project from five libraries to 48.

“The Corning Incorporated Foundation was pleased to support STLS in addressing connectivity challenges in the Southern Tier,” said Andrea Lynch, president of the Foundation. “Unfortunately, remote activities remain the norm and having indoor and now extensive outdoor Wi-Fi access will give more options to individuals and families who do not have reliable access at home.”

The Corning Incorporated Foundation is a charitable contributions organization established by Corning Incorporated in 1952. Through leadership and collaboration, the Foundation strives to foster vibrant, enriching, and supportive Corning communities. The Foundation focuses on education, human services, culture, and volunteerism in Corning business locations.

Southeast Steuben County Library was one of the first libraries to go live with the outdoor WiFi access points. Pauline Emery, Southeast Steuben County Library director, shared her library’s excitement about the program, “The newly installed external and internal WiFi Access Points are such a benefit to community members. There is a noticeable difference in the strength, speed, and reach of the library's WiFi.

Libraries have long been advocates for digital access and certainly the pandemic has driven home the need for strong effective access. Patrons will now get even better connectivity with their smart phones and laptops. This allows for better online learning, better virtual meetings, better job searching, and better virtual connections with friends and family.

Our board, staff and community are grateful for our library system leading this project, and the ongoing support and dedication of the Corning Incorporated Foundation for furthering digital access to our community and the region.

On behalf of the Southeast Steuben County Library board, staff and community, I want to thank the Southern Tier Library System and the Corning Incorporated Foundation for their dedication to furthering digital access to our community and the region.”