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Four Milwaukee Public Library branches will now have wi-fi hotspots that users can check out. (PHOTO: Milwaukee Public Library)

Grant allows Milwaukee Public Library to expand internet hotspot access to MLK

Milwaukee Public Library branches have long been a point of internet access for the community, thanks to its banks of computers and laptops and to its reliable wi-fi.

In fact, the MPL website notes the institution's goal of "provid(ing) equitable computer access to citizens."

Now, thanks to a $50,000 gift from Wells Fargo, MPL is expanding its free hotspot program that allows library users 18 years and up to take wi-fi with them.

Users can, on a first-come, first-serve basis, check out compact hardware that allows up to 10 devices to access the MPL wi-fi.

That program got started in April 2019 with 15 hotspots each at the Mill Road, Washington Park and Mitchell Street libraries, and five more reserved for enrollees in the library's Career Online High School.

The hotspots are "hugely popular," says MPL Community Relations & Engagement Director Eileen Force Cahill. "As more funding becomes available, we hope to continue to expand. They literally fly out like hotcakes."

The donation from Wells Fargo will allow MPL to add 75 hotspots to the Martin Luther King branch at King Drive and Locust Street. The hotspots will provide internet access to up to 750 devices.

"The mission of MPL is to help residents read, learn and connect, not just to our resources but to each other and the world beyond. Thanks to the generosity of Wells Fargo, the expansion of our hotspot program increases our ability to do that," said Library Director Paula Kiely.

"MPL is honored to receive this grant, and for the opportunity to partner with our friends at Wells Fargo to enrich the lives of residents by increasing digital access outside the physical library."

The hotspots cannot be placed on hold or reserve. They are checked out for 21 days and cannot be renewed. If they're not returned on time, they are deactivated. Because the hotspots aren't available at all library branches, hotspots must be returned to the branch from which they were checked out.

"Our library system continues to evolve and develop new, invaluable resources for Milwaukee residents," said Wells Fargo Regional Bank President Tony Nguyen. "Wells Fargo is proud to support this digital advancement to expand the library's reach and extend internet access for the Harambee neighborhood."

The MLK branch is one of two – along with Capitol Drive – slated to get replacements in coming years.

According to Force Cahill, developers are waiting to learn whether or not they will received WHEDA tax credits to finance the project.

"We should hear in May, maybe," she said, "and then we can move forward."

The new Good Hope Road branch, which will replace Mill Road, is expected to open in March.

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