Queens Public Library grants accessible Wi-Fi hot spots to help bridge the digital divide in underserved communities

Young woman working at home
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Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott announced on Thursday, Oct. 21, that QPL will be supplying more than 255 internet-enabled hot spots for visitors who don’t have internet access at home at four library branches in underserved communities.

QPL’s Lefrak City, South Jamaica, Astoria and Long Island City branches will now have Wi-Fi hot spots thanks to Sterling National Bank, National Grid and the Thomas & Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation for their generous donations totaling $85,000 to the library.

The donated fundings were secured as part of QPL’s broader goal to grow its supply of internet-enabled hot spots. Since, in the past, many of the loaned hot spots either got lost or damaged, the devices will now be checked out for one month and renewed up to three times.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for reliable home internet access for so many individuals and families in Queens and elsewhere in New York City, and it is critical to position the library to lend hot spots and other technology to them,” Walcott said. “We are extremely grateful to Sterling National Bank, National Grid and the Thomas & Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation for their partnership in addressing the digital divide in our communities.”

Founded about 125 years ago, Queens Public Library is one of the three public library systems serving the city of New York and the largest and busiest public library system in the United States. 

This independent, nonprofit organization offers free access to over 5 million books and other materials in many different languages, along with technology and digital resources, and more than 80,000 educational, cultural and civic programs. 

The library has 66 locations across Queens, which include branch libraries, a central library, seven adult learning centers, a technology center and two teen centers.

In 2019, QPL provided nearly 3 million free computer sessions and attracted over 11 million visitors. Even during the height of the pandemic, thousands of people sat outside the closed library buildings to be able to catch a Wi-Fi signal. From March 2020 to May 2021, the library recorded 498,810 Wi-Fi sessions.

Sterling National Bank made a donation of $50,000 for 18 laptops and 100 hot spots in the QPL Lefrak City location, which is now temporarily closed due to the damages done by Hurricane Ida. To meet the demand for computer and internet service, QPL distributed the loaning devices at a special event on Oct. 21 outside of the library, located at 98-30 57th Ave.

Karina Saltman, senior managing director of CRA Administration, said Sterling is proud to partner with QPL to bring the program to fruition at the Lefrak City branch. 

“Now more than ever, Sterling believes in the importance of bridging the digital divide in underserved communities,” Saltman said. “Supporting digital literacy programming allows parents to help their children with remote learning, prevents isolation with access to online communities, promotes workforce development opportunities and enables other essential services like telehealth and online banking. 

The National Grid donated $25,000 for 75 hot spots, mainly targeted at customers participating in workforce development programs at the South Jamaica Library.

“National Grid is proud to partner with Queens Public Library on this important initiative, which is core to our commitment of supporting local communities and workforce development. The hot spots will allow job seekers in South Jamaica to access the library’s virtual workforce and job skills training, as well as search and apply for employment opportunities online,” said Mauri Myers-Solages, corporate citizenship manager.

The Thomas & Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation gave a $10,000 donation for 30 hot spots to be loaned out by the Astoria and Long Island City branches. 

“The Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation has been a long-term supporter of Queens Public Library and its programming,” said Pooja Joshi O’Hanlon, executive director of The Elmezzi Foundation. “The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for many services, supports and resources for residents in western Queens, access to technology being one of them. The hot spots provided by Queens Public Library will go a long way towards alleviating some of this.”