Libraries across CK are making it easier to access the internet

·3 min read

To reduce the digital divide for residents in the municipality, the Chatham-Kent Public Library is making it easier for everyone to access the internet.

A new partnership between several local organizations is making it easier for all Chatham-Kent residents to connect to the services they need most.

Chatham-Kent Public Library, Chatham-Kent Employment and Social Service and Chatham-Kent Ontario Health Team have recently partnered to reduce the digital divide for residents in Chatham-Kent through the ‘Connect CK’ initiative. The partnership’s focus is to allow residents without internet or devices, or vulnerable in other ways, to access the internet.

The digital divide refers to the gap between people with access to modern information and communications technology and those without access. It can be especially prominent in rural communities such as Chatham-Kent, where residents face limited access to high-speed internet.

“Since the pandemic’s beginning, we have witnessed a growing demand from clients requesting help accessing important virtual appointments for services they are involved with. We are proud to be involved with the Connect CK initiative, which will provide additional opportunity to meet this demand,” said Matt Keech, a program manager with CKESS.

According to CKPL CEO and Chief Librarian Tania Sharpe, Connect CK will formally connect the health system to the library system in Chatham-Kent. She said this would help bridge the local divide between demand and access to virtual health care.

“CKPL staff have long recognized that the digital divide exists in Chatham-Kent,” said Tania Sharpe, CEO and chief librarian at the library. “We are pleased to partner with the CKOHT and CKESS to address this service gap in Chatham-Kent.”

She added that libraries across CK could see people huddled up in their alcoves during the first wave. As a result, she said the libraries left their Wi-Fi wide open so people could at least still log on.

“People were looking for access to the internet to stay in touch with their families, to do school work, lots of different things.”

For people with library cards, all 11 library branches in Chatham-Kent will lend Wi-Fi hotspots to make it easier for people to connect to the internet and access vital appointments. Wi-Fi-enabled laptops will also be available to use at the library or to borrow for people with a library card.

“The Wi-Fi hot spots are literally like a portable modem, a little tiny thing about the size of a phone,” Sharpe explained. “You can log onto that and access the internet for free.”

Sharpe said the technology is easy to use.

“We will sit with folks before they borrow [the laptops] just for a couple of minutes to walk through some of the tips and tricks to logging onto it, so people are aware,” she said.

In the coming weeks, ‘quiet pods’ will also become available for all Chatham-Kent residents at the Chatham and Wallaceburg branch and at the Community Human Services Building in Chatham.

Sharpe said people could use them if they need to attend any kind of appointment virtually.

“You can book them for a doctor’s appointment or one-on-one counselling session. They’ll be completely private,” she said. “You’ll be able to use a phone or laptop.”

In a recent 2022 ‘Let’s Talk Health, CK’ survey conducted by CKOHT, it was clear there was a need for the service.

According to the results, 75 percent of respondents reported in the last year had health care appointments that were conducted over the phone or via video conference. Still, only 35 percent of respondents reported having everything they needed for a video health care appointment.

Qualifying residents also have the opportunity to receive a free refurbished laptop through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News