By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 20, 2020 at 8:58 AM

Milwaukee Public Library branches have long been a point of internet access for the community, thanks to its banks of computers and laptops and to its reliable wi-fi.

In fact, the MPL website notes the institution’s goal of "provid(ing) equitable computer access to citizens."

Now, thanks to a $50,000 gift from Wells Fargo, MPL is expanding its free hotspot program that allows library users 18 years and up to take wi-fi with them.

Users can, on a first-come, first-serve basis, check out compact hardware that allows up to 10 devices to access the MPL wi-fi.

That program got started in April 2019 with 15 hotspots each at the Mill Road, Washington Park and Mitchell Street libraries, and five more reserved for enrollees in the library’s Career Online High School.

The hotspots are "hugely popular," says MPL Community Relations & Engagement Director Eileen Force Cahill. "As more funding becomes available, we hope to continue to expand. They literally fly out like hotcakes."

The donation from Wells Fargo will allow MPL to add 75 hotspots to the Martin Luther King branch at King Drive and Locust Street. The hotspots will provide internet access to up to 750 devices.

"The mission of MPL is to help residents read, learn and connect, not just to our resources but to each other and the world beyond. Thanks to the generosity of Wells Fargo, the expansion of our hotspot program increases our ability to do that," said Library Director Paula Kiely.

"MPL is honored to receive this grant, and for the opportunity to partner with our friends at Wells Fargo to enrich the lives of residents by increasing digital access outside the physical library."

The hotspots cannot be placed on hold or reserve. They are checked out for 21 days and cannot be renewed. If they’re not returned on time, they are deactivated. Because the hotspots aren’t available at all library branches, hotspots must be returned to the branch from which they were checked out.

"Our library system continues to evolve and develop new, invaluable resources for Milwaukee residents," said Wells Fargo Regional Bank President Tony Nguyen. "Wells Fargo is proud to support this digital advancement to expand the library’s reach and extend internet access for the Harambee neighborhood."

The MLK branch is one of two – along with Capitol Drive – slated to get replacements in coming years.

According to Force Cahill, developers are waiting to learn whether or not they will received WHEDA tax credits to finance the project.

"We should hear in May, maybe," she said, "and then we can move forward."

The new Good Hope Road branch, which will replace Mill Road, is expected to open in March.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.