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Access to outdoor work/learn spaces expanded at Boston Public Library branches

The free, 24-hour internet and pop-up workstations help to bridge the digital divide, beat the summer heat, and create new points of connection for residents.

Mayor Kim Janey, in collaboration with the Boston Public Library (BPL), the Environment Department, and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, will install outdoor pop-up connected work/learn spaces at six locations and continue offering free, 24-hour Wi-Fi at 14 of its branches. The BPL Outdoor Wi-Fi pop-ups will provide desks, additional lighting, and shade structures, allowing users to get online after hours and stay cool on hotter days. This project is part of the City’s ongoing efforts to expand equitable internet access, support community resilience, and create new points of community connection for residents emerging from a year of social distancing and increased social isolation. 

Shade structures, Wi-Fi, and seating installed at Codman Square Branch Library

“Whether it’s coming to the BPL to access books and engage with our learning programs, get online, or step out of the sun on a summer day, we recognize that libraries often serve as a community living room and are a vital neighborhood resource for many reasons,” said Mayor Janey. “We want to continue supporting all of the ways in which libraries make Boston and its residents more informed, creative, and resilient—both coming out of this pandemic and into the future.”

Pop-up workstations at the Brighton, Codman Square, Mattapan, and Grove Hall branch libraries will be installed in the month of June. As part of the City's Climate Ready Boston program, the Mayor's Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space will add two additional locations at the Egleston Square and East Boston branches in July to provide increased shade and cooling resources. All locations will remain installed until October 2021. 24-hour outdoor Wi-Fi at all 14 locations is permanent and available year-round. To access the Internet, users will need to bring their own device, such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone or borrow one from the library through the BPL’s device loan program

“Today's public libraries provide critical resources for residents, both daily and in times of crisis. In the twenty-first century, that requires providing access to devices, connectivity, and skills to help close the digital equity gap,” said BPL President David Leonard. “Extended outdoor Wi-Fi at branches is one more way of removing barriers to opportunity and providing a space to patrons that is safe and welcoming. Inside or out, the library will always be there for our communities.”

In addition to supporting the needs of residents who are still learning and working remotely, the BPL recognizes that its spaces function as essential community resource hubs, providing access to a range of services and amenities to support learning, wellness and social connections. City services will also be provided at some BPL pop-up locations. The Boston Summer Eats program, which distributes free grab-and-go meals, will operate Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Mattapan (9am-11am), Codman Square (1-3 pm), and Grove Hall (4-6 pm) pop-up locations. Starting in July, the Office of Housing Stability, which helps residents find and maintain stable, safe and affordable housing, will offer application assistance for tenants applying for the Rental Relief Fund on Tuesdays at Mattapan and Thursdays at Grove Hall. 

"Climate change is happening, and Boston is getting hotter. Bostonians are strong, but the same residents that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic also bear the burden of increased heat," said Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space. "This partnership with the Boston Public Library provides outdoor work spaces that help residents stay safe and cool, access critical resources online, and learn how to protect themselves and their families from extreme heat today. Helping Boston recover, reopen and renew means making sure folks stay safe and cool this summer."

Adapting access to the BPL throughout the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the number of Boston residents who rely on the BPL’s resources to access the Internet for essential information about City services, online learning, and other resources such as employment opportunities. Last summer, the BPL installed outdoor Wi-Fi at 14 branches to ensure that reliable Internet access remained available even when the BPL’s doors were closed. 

In Boston and across the United States, many families lack reliable Internet access, creating a digital divide that reinforces inequality. According to a recent Pew Study, more than 40 percent of low-income Americans making less than $30,000 lack access to broadband Internet. Outdoor Wi-Fi at Boston Public Libraries will help fill this critical gap more reliably for residents across the city.

The Central Library at Copley Square and all branch libraries are now open for limited in-person services. To learn more about the library’s available walk-in and by appointment services, safety requirements, and other reopening information visit the Boston Public Library reopening website.

Outdoor Wi-Fi locations: Adams St., Brighton, Codman Square, Connolly, East Boston, Egleston Square, Grove Hall, Honan-Allston, Hyde Park, Lower Mills, Mattapan, Parker Hill, Roxbury, South End, West Roxbury. South Boston outdoor Wi-Fi available during opening hours.

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