Pioneer Library System Bridges the Digital Divide in Parks | Field Reports

To combat the digital divide, reduce barriers to service, and add even more ways to engage with the library outside our walls, Pioneer Library System took action to install solar benches in all the communities we serve.

Pioneer Library System (PLS) is always looking for new ways to innovate services in order to meet customers where they are. Coming out of the pandemic, we, like many libraries, realized that customer behavior had changed. While our libraries have offered 24/7 digital resources for years, PLS is now seeing higher digital engagement than ever before. Convenient and on-demand services are no longer optional—instant access to library cards and materials is a must. Customers are now interacting with the library outside our walls regularly through StoryWalks, 24-Hour Libraries, book lockers, virtual programs, and more. Digital collections are circulating at an all-time high.

Despite all the ways to connect with the library, the gap in connectivity is still very real. “There is always a need in the community for people to stay connected while going about their daily lives,” said Moore Public Library Branch Manager Phil Clark.

To combat the digital divide, reduce barriers to service, and add even more ways to engage with the library outside our walls, Pioneer Library System took action to install solar benches in all the communities we serve.

When encountering a PLS solar bench, customers will discover more than just a cozy seat. Solar benches include a built-in solar panel, phone charger, and Wi-Fi that instantly connects the user to our digital library. In partnership with OverDrive, a simple QR code links directly to a “public access” collection of digital books, audiobooks, and magazines. Customers can instantly read, listen, and enjoy the opening sections from more than 100,000 e-materials from PLS. To borrow complete titles, the customer can download the app and sign up for a library card.

The bench itself serves as an advertisement for the library, giving space for a poster highlighting the library and the features of the bench. “The benches give the library great visibility in well-used and popular city venues,” said Clark. “Hopefully local citizens will visit the solar bench and want to dig deeper into all the library has to offer.”

Benches were placed strategically across PLS’s three-county service area in central Oklahoma in order to make the biggest impact. Consideration was given to each unique community using specific criteria: distance from the library to broaden our reach, areas with low broadband connectivity, or areas with heavy traffic and walkability. PLS worked in partnership with each municipality to determine final placement. The agreement is simple: the city provides the location and contracts to have a concrete pad poured, and PLS provides the rest.

“This bench gave us the opportunity to have new technology and have Wi-Fi in an area of [Veterans Park Pond] that did not exist,” said Library Board Trustee and Newcastle Assistant City Manager Jeannette McNally. “Most of our citizens have never seen one, so it created a lot of interest and excitement by park users.”

In one city, a bench was placed where a new library facility is planned. In another, the bench was placed along a highly used walking trail by the lake. In several instances, benches were placed in parks where celebrations naturally take place, making the bench a natural centerpiece or backdrop. Another popular spot is alongside the library’s StoryWalk. “Along with the Moore StoryWalk, this new feature at Central Park will be an incentive to visit the park, enjoy the outdoors and remain physically active,” said Clark.

“I love to drive to work in the morning and see people sitting at the bench connecting to their world,” said Clark. “It’s exciting to be a part of new innovations like this solar bench that will benefit our local citizens and further the work of the library in the community.”

The project is a win-win for all involved. Customers are able to connect, instantly access e-materials, and charge their device while reimagining what today’s library looks like. “It is great seeing the latest technology in our community,” McNally said. “It is something our community would not be able to have if it was not for our partnership with the Pioneer Library System.”

As our name implies, we are Pioneers. We’re used to charting the path and learning lessons along the way, and we are more than happy to share our successes and challenges with others. Contact us at

Kelly Sitzman is Director of Communications and Employee Development, Pioneer Library System.

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