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WIU Launches Chromebook Lending Program in Partnership with Libraries

July 22, 2022

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL -- Access to broadband remains a challenge for many rural Illinois residents, with the digital divide becoming even more apparent during the pandemic when many individuals were forced to learn and work from home. Western Illinois University is working to address the issue of inequitable internet access by working with community libraries in four rural communities in Illinois to establish Chromebook lending programs.

According to Chris Merrett, WIU dean of innovation and economic development and director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, thanks to funding from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Office of Broadband and the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), Illinois public libraries in Salem, Quincy, Rushville and Macomb will each receive four LTE-enabled Chromebook computers. These computers will allow borrowers to access the internet without requiring an internet provider subscription.

"WIU is working with community libraries because our institution has a long tradition working with rural communities to ensure access to knowledge and technology," Merrett added. "We selected libraries in partnership with the Illinois Heartland Library System (IHLS) and the Reaching Across Illinois Library Systems (RAILS), which are part of the Illinois system that manages community libraries. Community libraries were invited to apply to host the Chromebook lending program, and WIU, IHLS and RAILS selected libraries based on application quality, combined with their community broadband needs as identified by a community digital divide index."

Funding from the DCEO Office of Broadband is part of a larger state initiative to expand access to broadband and digital literacy across Illinois, Merrett explained. WIU coordinators include Chris Merrett, Associate Professor of Economics Shankar Ghimire, who also serves as project lead, School of Computer Science Director Dennis DeVolder and Libraries Dean Hector Maymi-Sugranes.

"We had far more applications than we had Chromebooks to share. Clearly, there is a need for a lending program like this, as a digital divide exists," noted Dan Bostrom from RAILS and Anna Yackle from the IHLS.
Macomb Public Library Director Dennis Danowski said that the unmet need for more internet access really hit home during the height of the pandemic.

"Even after the library's business hours, students were sitting in their cars in our parking lot, using the library's free Wi-Fi to finish their homework assignments," he added.

The lending programs will be ready before the new school year starts in August 2022. For more information, email or

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