Providing Digital Access for All Durham Residents

Credit: Photos by Durham County Library

Free Internet for Underserved Families

When a local family in the Bragtown neighborhood of Durham fell on tough times, they had to pawn their technology just to afford their rent. Without technology, the mother struggled to homeschool her daughter during the pandemic.

The problem this family faced is a result of the digital divide—the gap in society between those who have access to modern internet and technology and those who don’t. In Durham, the digital divide has historical roots. Unequal access to the internet has stemmed from longtime wealth disparities.

Credit: Durham County Bragtown Branch Library

Bragtown, a neighborhood located in northeast Durham, is one of these communities.

Since being incorporated by the city in 1957, the community has often experienced little or no access to basic services and amenities such as safe parks, sidewalks and a community center. As for the digital divide, it’s steep. Between 18.7% and 25.8% of households do not have internet access, compared to 10.1% for Durham County as a whole. With a median household income of $33,683, many families in this community choose between the internet or food on the table.

For this family, help arrived at the Bragtown Family Literary Center. The Center, which is the local branch of the Durham County Library in Bragtown, recently launched a new program offering technology kits for check-out. Each kit contains one laptop, one hotspot with internet service, one flash drive and a step-by-step brochure on how to access and use other Library electronic resources, such as career development services, homework help, business advice and more.

The family immediately checked out one of the kits. Soon enough, their daughter was able to complete her online work and carry out her education.

The impact of the kits goes beyond just one family, however. According to Kathleen Hayes, Bragtown branch library manager, the kits have positively impacted not only the residents of Bragtown, but also the greater Durham community. “By creating and expanding opportunities for equitable access to technology and technology education, especially to those with barriers to access, we are supporting the library’s vision to inspire lives and transform Durham,” said Hayes.

Credit: Photos by Durham County Library
Credit: Photos by Durham County Library
Credit: Photos by Durham County Library
Credit: Photos by Durham County Library

Bragtown Family Literacy Center
Photo: Durham Public Library

The issue of the digital divide and how best to resolve it in our community has long been on the minds of the Durham Library Foundation.

When proposed, this program was an easy yes for the Foundation. The organization donated over $30,000 to help fund the initiative.

“The “tech kits” project from Bragtown Family Literacy Center was resoundingly supported by our board of directors. Everyone is acutely aware of the basic need for broadband and access to equipment in this day and time, especially in Durham County,” said Ann Craver, Durham Library Foundation president.

Seeing the early success of the program, the Library plans to expand it to underserved communities beyond Bragtown. Beginning in December, the Library will begin circulating 15 kits at the new Main Library to serve the Hayti, McDougald Terrace and Northeast Central communities in Durham. Following their initial contribution, the Foundation will also cover the costs for these new kits.

By providing fair and equitable access to technology to these communities, the Library hopes to help more families like the one in Bragtown.

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