Wichita Public Library patrons could soon be logging on at local branch libraries and getting free Wi-Fi connections.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has given $122,500 to the Wichita Public Library Foundation to provide wireless Internet access.
Wichita library officials could not say how soon the Wi-Fi connections would be made available at the downtown and branch libraries.
Library officials did say the money will allow the Wichita Public Library Foundation to also expand the number of computers available to the public, develop a mobile computing lab, update curriculum and teach more technology classes at the branch libraries.
The funding is part of a $3.3 million initiative by the Knight Foundation to expand online capacity for public libraries in 12 communities across the nation. Each year, the Knight Foundation invests in communities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, including The Wichita Eagle.
This year, the Wichita Public Library was one of the recipients.
"This is a good day for people who like to use the library," said Anne Corriston, Knight Foundation's local program director. "It is also a good day to represent a foundation that wants to make a difference in the Wichita community."
When Corriston announced during a news conference Thursday at the Westlink Branch what the money would be used for, there was an audible gasp in the room and patrons broke into applause.
"Our foundation is very committed to people having access to information," Corriston said. "We believe access to information on the Internet is critically important for people of all ages."
City Council member Jeff Longwell, who attended Thursday's news conference, said the Knight Foundation's grant helped "narrow the digital divide."
"This is particularly needed during these tough economic times when an increasing number of residents need access to information and services that will help them manage the challenges and access the opportunities of global competition," Longwell said.
In such an economy, with so many people within the Wichita community out-of-work and seeking jobs, the gift is especially welcome, said Melissa Alley, Wichita Public Library Board of Directors secretary.
Use of services and resources have increased as much as 25 percent at the library, Alley said.
"Now, with the help of the Knight Foundation, our library's capacity for providing public computing and access to online information will better match customer demand," Alley said.