The Bracebridge Library offers free Wi-Fi in its parking lot

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Cathryn Rodney, chief librarian, on the sudden demand for broadband in cottage country

Illustration by Jenn Liv

How’s the internet in Bracebridge?
It’s not great in town, but the real issue is in the rural areas. Some of the library’s board members live just outside town, and when we have meetings on Zoom, they sometimes freeze up. I live in town, and every once in a while it gets bogged down. I really noticed it when the pandemic hit because there were a lot more people trying to access it.

Why did you start offering free Wi-Fi in your parking lot at the Bracebridge Public Library?
As the pandemic stretched on, we started getting calls from people wanting to access our databases of e-books, audiobooks, newspapers and so on—it seems that many people had some newfound time on their hands and decided to research the family tree. We’d heard of other libraries in cottage country providing parking-lot Wi-Fi, so we decided to do the same.

How did you get it set it up?
You can get Wi-Fi if you stand right outside our front door, and we often saw people along our walkway taking advantage of the connection. For safety reasons, we didn’t want people lining up there, and it wasn’t a particularly comfortable place for users anyway. So we ran cabling to a stairwell at the back of the library, where the parking lot is, and set up an extra hot spot.

How popular is your parking lot now?
It’s steady. People use the Wi-Fi for school, for work, to download e-books. We see people taking Zoom meetings in their car. In the evenings, our staff go to their cars and see people watching Netflix or FaceTiming with friends. Even during the winter, there were people out there with their windows rolled up, and they’d turn their cars on occasionally to warm themselves up. I didn’t envy them. At the beginning of the pandemic, one of our members got a new tablet but didn’t know how to connect to our Wi-Fi. She pulled up behind the library and one of the librarians bundled up to go out and help her. It was still pretty chilly, so she kept her windows rolled up, and our librarian had to walk her through with gestures. It must have looked strange to everyone else in the parking lot, but it worked!