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Library laptops for students taking hold: Lending refurbished computers has goal of ‘digital equity’

Development, Services & Programs

December 13, 2018

Spokane Public Schools and the Spokane Public Library are partnering to offer refurbished laptop computers that SPS students can check out from their local library.

The program is in its infancy, with only 26 laptops checked out to Rogers High School students from the Hillyard Library so far, but more computers, more schools and more libraries are set to come online in the coming months.

The two entities began partnering last year with a fine-free library card for all Spokane Public Schools students and staff, said library director of marketing and communication Amanda Donovan.

“We don’t want to create barriers for anyone who wants to access these materials,” she said. “We’re looking for ways we can deepen that partnership.”

Voters approved bonds for both organizations this year that will see some libraries and schools located next to each other on the same property, so it makes sense to have that partnership, Donovan said.

The Rogers High School pilot project started in November and has gone well, said SPS director of technology and information Scott Kerwien. “It was great,” he said.

The school district replaces its computers every four years and the old ones are being refurbished to give them new life. “In the past we were allowed to sell them for $25 to Excelsior Youth Center,” he said.

Now students at the Tech Depot put each laptop through the official Microsoft refurbishing process, gaining computer skills along the way. Those computers are then funneled into the library lending program. It takes about three weeks to produce 20 laptops for lending, so the rollout will be slow.

“As more and more classes require access to technology, we want to make sure we have that capacity,” Kerwien said. “We’re definitely in the early stages of this.”

For now, the program will be geared toward high school students, but Kerwien said parents of students in other grades are already expressing interest in the program. “When parents are hearing about it, parents are positive about it,” he said. “There’s a strong interest and outcry to speed this up a little.”

When students are given a laptop, they attend an information session at the library. They’re taught how to use the computers, shown how to download Microsoft 360 and encouraged to use the library as their tech support if they have issues.

Community Technology director Tara Neumann said some of the students she met at the first session didn’t have access to a computer at home.

“The focus is on digital equity and getting those resources to students who really need them,” she said. “Access is still a very high need in Spokane.”

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