OC libraries to offer WiFi in parking lots, hot spot checkout, mobile internet in neighborhoods

From the caution tape to the plexiglass and overall limited access, Orange County Public Libraries look a bit different these days, but they are open for grab-and-go services only.

"Once they come in, they're greeted by a staff person who asks them what services they're looking for. If they're using the computers they should have an appointment or we can make an appointment," said county librarian Julie Quillman, who overseas the region's 32 public libraries that are allowed to operate at 50% occupancy. But that's easily maintained because most of the building is closed off.

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Two young girls in Salinas relied on a Taco Bell's free WiFi to access their coursework from the restaurant's parking lot.

"We are not currently allowing browsing of the stacks. There's no sitting or reading areas because of the rules about the occupancy," said Quillman.

Right now, people can only browse holds and popular items and are encouraged to do self-checkout. For those that don't want to go in, there's curbside pickup.

"It's completely contactless. They text when they get to the parking lot and we put their item out on the table and they can just walk up and they can pick it up and people really love that.," Quillman said.

County libraries are also in the process of adding WiFi access in the parking lots, and will soon offer hot spot checkouts when the county launches a new WiFi On Wheels initiative, with vehicles bringing internet to neighborhoods in need.

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School was in session on Thursday in Van Nuys -- sort of. The Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department is offering alternative learning centers for low-income families and the kids and parents are excited.

"We are starting with about five locations first and we will ramp up capacity in the future hopefully to cover a lot of the cities in Orange County," said Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do. He says it will help bridge the digital divide.

"A substantial number of students come from low income families and they don't have access to WiFi, to high speed internet. And that severely limits their ability to learn remotely," he said.

The WiFi on Wheels program will officially launch on Oct. 27.

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Vans equipped with Wi-Fi served as mobile hot spots for Santa Ana students struggling with internet access.

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