Sheffield Jones uses the library’s Wi-Fi on his phone Friday at Emily Fowler Central Library.

A little more than half of internet logins at the Denton Public Library occur on the library’s public access computers, but that could change next year after the library begins circulating 4G hotspots.

“We know that not all households in Denton have internet access,” said Denton’s director of libraries, Jennifer Bekker. “Checking out a hotspot will allow patrons take care of online activities anywhere.

“Many area libraries already check out hotspots and find that the hotspots are so popular that they usually have hold lists,” she added.

After a year of collecting the data, city librarians know that close to half of Denton Public Library internet logins come via the Wi-Fi and library patrons’ mobile devices.

Librarians don’t know whether the patrons are logging in to pay a bill, browse job listings or surfing the web for fun. But they know that internet access is essential for many activities, she added.

According to the Pew Research Center, increasing numbers of Americans use their smartphone as the main device for accessing the internet. In addition, more users report they don’t have broadband access at home because they can do most everything they need to with their phone.

The center’s latest internet usage report came in June and followed a telephone survey of more than 1,500 people nationwide.

The survey also found that higher-income families continue to be more likely to have broadband internet access at home (92% for households earning $75,000 and up) than middle- and low-income families (56% for those earning $30,000 or less). But as smartphones increasingly bridge the gap, those without broadband at home show little interest getting it (just 20% said they would sign up for the service).

A recent survey of Denton ISD students in grades 3-12 found that districtwide, about 6% don’t have internet access at home, district spokesman Derrick Jackson said. Several central Denton elementary schools report gaps of 10% or more, including Alexander, Hodge and Borman (11%); and Ginnings, Newton Rayzor and McNair (13%). In addition, Providence Elementary in Providence Village reported 11% of students did not have internet access at home.

Not all the Wi-Fi logins at the Denton library branches necessarily come during business hours, but the librarians aren’t tracking that data, Bekker said. The Wi-Fi signal is strong enough to access outside the building. And even though the library isn’t open 24/7, the Wi-Fi stays on all day, every day.

“It’s not like we’d get a discount if we turn it off,” Bekker said.

The library’s plan for circulating hotspots is still in the works. But this much is already known: Library patrons will be able to check out one hotspot for three weeks, just like books, movies and music. If the device isn’t returned by the due date, it will be deactivated until it is returned.

“They can use the portable hotspots to make business presentations away from their office, do school work and research at home, read or watch the news while waiting at the doctor’s office, or check email while traveling,” Bekker said. “Each hotspot connects to multiple Wi-Fi-enabled devices, which means that one hotspot can connect a whole household to the internet.”

While the library has gone fine-free for books and other materials, the hotspot still must be returned when it’s due.

Staff writer Marshall Reid contributed to this report.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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