The State of Library Device Lending Programs, 2024

Libraries have long transcended their traditional roles as simple repositories of books and other physical media, with many libraries now providing access to a wide array of digital resources and devices. This evolution is particularly evident in the growth of device lending programs, where libraries offer patrons the opportunity to borrow laptops, tablets, and mobile hotspots. This article delves into the current state of these programs, examining their benefits, challenges, and future prospects.

The Rise of Device Lending Programs

Device lending programs have become essential in addressing the digital divide, providing equitable access to technology for underserved communities. These programs typically include the lending of laptops, tablets, e-readers, and mobile hotspots, allowing patrons to access the internet and digital resources from home.

Libraries across the United States have embraced these initiatives. For instance, the New York Public Library offers a TechConnect program, lending out Chromebooks and hotspots to eligible patrons, and the Chicago Public Library provides a "Internet to Go" service, where patrons can borrow Wi-Fi hotspots. But library lending programs aren't just limited to large cities -- the digital divide exists in rural America, as well, which is why even smaller libraries like the Northwestern Regional Library in North Carolina have also implemented library device lending programs.

Benefits of Device Lending Programs

  1. Bridging the Digital Divide: By providing access to digital devices and the internet, libraries help bridge the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. This is particularly critical in low-income and rural areas where internet connectivity can be scarce. According to the Pew Research Center, about 15% of households with school-aged children do not have a high-speed internet connection at home. Libraries play a crucial role in mitigating this digital disparity by providing essential technology to those who need it most. Additionally, Kajeet's SmartSpot® mobile hotspots have been widely adopted by libraries to ensure reliable internet access for patrons.

  2. Educational Support: Device lending programs support educational initiatives by ensuring that students have the necessary tools to participate in online learning. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many libraries saw a surge in demand for devices as schools shifted to remote learning. For instance, the Los Angeles Public Library expanded its device lending program to include more hotspots and laptops to assist students in their academic pursuits, thereby preventing educational disruptions. Solutions like those Kajeet provides for education connectivity and edtech devices have been instrumental in providing the connectivity needed for students to continue their education outside of school premises.

  3. Workforce Development: These programs also aid in workforce development. Job seekers can use borrowed devices to search for jobs, create resumes, and apply for positions online. Libraries often complement device lending with digital literacy training to enhance users' skills. The San Diego Public Library has integrated workforce development services with its device lending program, offering workshops on resume writing, job searching, and interview preparation. Kajeet's solutions provide secure and filtered internet access, which is crucial for job seekers to safely and efficiently utilize online resources.

  4. Community Engagement: By offering device lending, libraries can increase community engagement and foot traffic. Patrons who come in to borrow devices often discover other valuable library resources and services, and some libraries have reported increased usage of its other services, such as digital media labs and educational workshops, due to patrons visiting the library for device lending.

Challenges Facing Device Lending Programs

While the benefits are clear, libraries face several challenges in implementing and sustaining device lending programs.

  1. Funding and Sustainability: Securing funding to purchase and maintain devices is a significant hurdle. Libraries often rely on grants, donations, and government programs to support these initiatives. For example, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provides grants that many libraries use to fund device lending programs. However, sustaining these programs requires ongoing financial support for repairs, replacements, and software updates. Libraries must continuously seek new funding sources and advocate for increased budget allocations to ensure program longevity. Partnering with companies like Kajeet can provide additional expertise for managing device lending programs effectively. Kajeet offers flexible data plans and device management solutions that help libraries manage costs and maintain service quality.

  2. Technical Support and Maintenance: Managing a fleet of devices requires technical expertise and resources. Libraries must handle device maintenance, troubleshoot issues, and ensure that devices are updated and secure. This can strain library staff, especially in smaller libraries with limited personnel that might have to train staff extensively to manage technical issues and provide effective support to patrons. Kajeet's device management platforms and support services simplify this process by offering remote monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities.

  3. Digital Literacy: Lending devices alone is not enough. Libraries must also provide digital literacy training to help patrons effectively use the technology. This includes teaching basic computer skills, internet safety, and how to use various software applications. The New York Public Library has implemented comprehensive digital literacy programs alongside its device lending initiatives, offering classes and assistance to ensure that patrons can fully benefit from the technology.

  4. Privacy and Security: Ensuring the privacy and security of patron data is crucial. Libraries must implement robust security measures to protect users' information and prevent unauthorized access to devices. This includes setting up secure login protocols, regularly updating software, and educating patrons about cybersecurity best practices. Library systems with device lending programs should develop a detailed privacy policy and security guidelines to safeguard patron data and ensure safe usage of lent devices. Kajeet's devices come with built-in security features, including content filtering and data protection, which help libraries maintain high standards of privacy and security.

Future Prospects and Innovations

The future of library device lending programs looks promising, with several trends and innovations poised to enhance their impact.

  1. Expanded Funding Opportunities: With increased recognition of the importance of digital inclusion, more funding opportunities need to be made available. Libraries can tap into federal programs as they are made available, as well as explore partnerships with private sector companies to secure necessary resources. Additionally, philanthropic organizations are increasingly supporting digital inclusion initiatives, providing another potential funding avenue. Kajeet offers tailored solutions that align with these funding sources, helping libraries to maximize their impact.

  2. Integrated Digital Services: Libraries are increasingly integrating device lending with other digital services. For example, some libraries are combining device lending with access to online learning platforms, virtual job fairs, and telehealth services, creating a comprehensive digital ecosystem for their communities. Some libraries have piloted programs that combine device lending with access to educational and career development resources, offering patrons a more holistic approach to digital inclusion. Kajeet's SmartBus™ solution demonstrates how integrated digital services can be extended beyond the library, providing mobile Wi-Fi for students and community members on the go.

  3. Advanced Technology: The introduction of more advanced technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), is on the horizon. Libraries could lend VR headsets and other advanced devices, providing patrons with access to cutting-edge technology and immersive learning experiences. Some library systems have started exploring the potential of lending VR equipment, aiming to enhance educational and cultural programming through immersive technology. Kajeet's emphasis on innovative technology solutions ensures libraries can keep up with the latest trends and provide patrons with state-of-the-art resources.

  4. Enhanced Training Programs: As digital literacy becomes more critical, libraries are likely to expand their training programs. Offering more in-depth and specialized training can help patrons make better use of the borrowed devices, whether for education, job searching, or personal enrichment. Libraries like the Seattle Public Library are developing advanced digital literacy curriculums that cover topics from basic computer skills to more complex digital tasks, ensuring comprehensive support for all patrons. Kajeet supports these initiatives by providing educational resources and tools that help libraries develop robust training programs.

  5. Collaborative Networks: Libraries may form collaborative networks to share resources and expertise. By working together, libraries can pool their resources to offer more robust device lending programs and support services, ensuring that even smaller libraries can participate in these initiatives. The Metropolitan New York Library Council serves as a model for such collaborations, providing a platform for libraries to share resources, knowledge, and best practices in device lending and digital literacy. Kajeet's collaborative approach and partnerships with educational and community organizations foster such networks, enhancing the reach and effectiveness of device lending programs.


Library device lending programs are playing an increasingly vital role in promoting digital inclusion and literacy. They provide essential tools for education, workforce development, and community engagement, helping to bridge the digital divide. Despite challenges related to funding, technical support, and security, the benefits of these programs are substantial.

As libraries continue to innovate and expand their services, the future of device lending programs looks bright. By leveraging new funding opportunities, integrating advanced technologies, and enhancing digital literacy training, libraries can ensure that all members of their communities have access to the digital resources they need to succeed.

For library administrators, investing in device lending programs is a strategic move that aligns with the evolving role of libraries in the digital age. By embracing these initiatives, libraries can continue to serve as essential community hubs, providing equitable access to technology and fostering a more inclusive digital future.

For more information on how to start or improve a device lending program in your library, consider exploring resources from the American Library Association (ALA)  and the Public Library Association (PLA). These organizations offer valuable guidance and support for library administrators seeking to enhance their digital services.

Bridge the Digital Divide

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