WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - The shelves inside two vans, operated by the Williamsburg Regional Library, are typically filled with library books. During the pandemic, those shelves are empty, holding instead a little device that provide big power - Wi-Fi internet connections.
"We really feel like Wi-Fi access is an essential service, especially now, because people are trying to access some of the online resources that are available to them," Sandy Tower, the Williamsburg Regional Library's Assistant Library Director, said.
That's why the library system came up with this idea: drive the vans across James City County as their library doors remain shut due to the governor's orders to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
"I haven't heard of any others that are doing the mobile hotspots, using their Bookmobiles to deliver internet," Tower said.
The library is partnering with local schools and organizations. The vans are being driven to the schools and other locations such as shopping centers.
"Our school division estimates that 10 to 15 percent of their students do not have reliable internet access at home," Tower said. "We know that people are going to the grocery store, we know they're going to the dollar store for provisions, so we've gone to those as well."
You can be right next to the van or be as far as 30 feet to have a connection. Staff overseeing the vans said the radius range is about 30 feet.
News 3 tested out the range and found a stable connection at that range. You can also drive up to the van and stay inside your vehicle.
Users -- either WRL or non-WRL patrons -- can connect for free without a password. The WiFi name will begin with "WRL," followed by a mix of numbers and letters. Users can surf the web, stream videos, check apps and other non-intensive online activities. Tower said users can also use the WiFi connection to fill out the 2020 Census.
"What we hope is that our community is able to access the information in this time. It's a very trying time for everyone," Tower said.
The vans operate Monday through Saturday with no Sunday services. The times and location vary and can be found below:
- James Blair Middle School (101 Longhill Rd.) 8-10 a.m.
- James River Elementary School /Abram Frink Jr. Community Center (8901 Pocahontas Tr.) 8-11 a.m.
- Quarterpath Crossing (1470 Quarterpath Rd.) 1-3 p.m.
- Ewell Station (5601 Richmond Rd.) 1-3 p.m.
- Monticello Marketplace (4680 Monticello Ave.) 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Settlers Market/Walmart Neighborhood Market (4670 Casey Blvd.) 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Toano Middle School (7817 Richmond Rd.) 8-10 a.m.
- Warhill High School (4615 Opportunity Way) 8-10 a.m.
- Williamsburg Crossing (5235 John Tyler Hwy.) 1-3 p.m.
- ALDI Grocery Store (1504 Richmond Rd.) 1-3 p.m.
- Lightfoot Marketplace (6485 Centerville Rd.) 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Candle Factory Shopping Center (7537 Richmond Rd.) 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Grove Christian Outreach Center (8800 Pocohontas Tr.) 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
- James-York Plaza (701 Merrimac Tr.) 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Midtown Row (1234 Richmond Rd.) 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Walmart Supercenter (731 E. Rochambeau Dr.) 1-3 p.m.
- Governors Green (4511 John Tyler Hwy.) 1-3 p.m.
- Dollar General (7147 Richmond Rd.) 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Williamsburg Marketcenter (6610 Mooretown Rd.) 1:30-3:30 p.m.
The library also has stationary WiFi access points at the following locations:
- Dollar General (8766 Pocahontas Tr.)
- Home Cooking (8953 Pocahontas Tr.)
- Powhatan Apartments (226 Burton Woods Dr.)
- Burnt Ordinary (7901 Sterling Dr.)
- Merrimac Crossing (159 Merrimac Tr.)
- Williamsburg Library (515 Scotland St.)
- Stryker Center/City Square (412 N. Boundary St.)
- James City County Library (7770 Croaker Rd.)