DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities

Hotspot Playbook

This resource was developed as part of the PLA program, DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities, supported by Microsoft Philanthropies, to help libraries establish and promote hotspot lending programs. Have you created a policy, promotional item, or evaluation tool for hotspot lending at your library? Please share it with to be included in this growing playbook of resources. 

Implementing a Mobile Hotspot Lending Program at your library offers up a world of possibilities for your patrons.

Hotspot lending programs are important to communities because they:

  • help individuals with employment opportunities
  • bridge the digital divide
  • provide access to health information, especially seniors and those in rural areas
  • offer connectivity to financially disadvantage patrons
  • help individuals with employment opportunities
  1. What is a hotspot?

    A Wi-Fi hotspot is a device you can use to connect a mobile-enabled device, such as a laptop, smartphone, or tablet to the Internet.  The hotspot is portable, so you can connect your device almost anywhere.

    Understanding types of equipment used for Wi-Fi (Step 2. Vermont Council on Rural Development)

  2. Launching a Hotspot Lending Program

    Hotspot lending programs are essential to bridging the digital divide. Rural libraries are uniquely positioned to impact the digital environment of their communities. This section will provide helpful links to sample policy, procedures and Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.)

    1. How To Guide for Libraries (University of Texas at Austin)

    2. Lending WiFi Hotspot Devices to Patrons webinar (Texas State Library) which includes policy and procedure templates

    3. Mobile Wireless Hotspot Lending Policy (Brossard Memorial Library, Gallipolis, OH)

    4. Wi-Fi Hotspot Lending Procedures and Forms for patrons and staff (LaSalle Public  Library, State of Illinois)

    5. Borrower Policy – Rentable Wi-Fi Hotspots (Charlotte Mecklenburg, 2019)

    6. Frequently asked questions from patrons about hotspot lending (Heights Libraries, Cleveland Heights, OH)

  3. Costs

    Libraries should bear in mind there will be one-time costs as well as ongoing costs related to data usage and plans, staff training and equipment. Like a cell phone data plan, there are limits to the data of a mobile hotspot device based on monthly service plans. These plans vary based on the service provider and the available technologies in your service area.

    1. Get a Handle on The Cost: devices, service plans and staff training (Christina Vercelletto, Library Journal)

    2. Guidelines on cost to replace equipment and overdue fines (Cuyahoga County Public Library, 2018)

    3. Presentation on starting a hotspot lending program: graphs and other statistics related to service providers (PDF, slides 23–24). Also includes pilot program results, (Oklahoma State University)

    4. Information related to a monthly bill and data usage (PDF, starting on page 3 and table below)

  4. Communications

    Once your hotspot lending program is ready to go, it will need to be promoted. Promotions can be announced through the city’s public information office, in the city news outlets, on the library’s website and social media blasts. Another effective way to let the community know about the lending program is to introduce the program to attendees at other library programs, especially those with a technology theme.

    Chicago Public Library – Mayor News

    Chicago Public Library website

    South Carolina City News


  5. Hotspot Program Evaluation

    For an example of a library hotspot lending program evaluation, read Building a Rural Library Hotspot Lending Program: Results from a One-Year Pilot (Oklahoma State University).

    Evaluating your hotspot lending program can inform future program policies and enhancements. Libraries are encouraged to use Project Outcome, which is a free tool from the Public Library Association that helps libraries understand and share the impact of essential library programs and services by providing simple surveys and an easy-to-use process for measuring and analyzing outcomes. Users can choose from pre-designed surveys focused on digital learning, education/lifelong learning, economic development and more.

    Libraries can collect information from patrons checking out and returning hotspots to gather immediate data on use, and after a predetermined period to assess if the hotspots helped meet overarching goals such as doing homework or finding a job. Customizable tools are linked below.

    Libraries can also survey or collect anecdotal information from community partners such as schools and government agencies who are working to promote the library’s hotspot lending program.

    1. Project Outcome

    2. Check-Out Questionnaire, collecting basic information from patrons using the hotspot lending program, including age, how they learned about the program, and other details

    3. Immediate Questionnaire, intended to be completed when the patron returns the hotspot

    4. Follow-up Questionnaire, to be given to patrons 4–12 weeks post-intervention, if the library is willing and able to track users and reach out to them

  6. Additional Resources: Hotspot Lending Programs

    1. Questions asked when trying to start a hotspot lending program; e.g.: what if the hotspot gets lost or stolen? (Nicole Umayam, National Digital Inclusion Alliance)

    2. Spearhead a successful Wi-Fi hotspot lending program with advice from those who led the way: popular hotspot lending programs, local approach, cost and getting the word out  (Christina Vercelletto, Library Journal)

    3. Implementation Strategies for a hotspot lending program (, PDF, page 4)

    4. Building a Rural Library Hotspot Lending Program: Results from a One-Year Pilot: number of devices needed and typical number of loans (Journal of Extension)