Having computer access and reliable internet is a necessity for nearly all aspects of life — applying for jobs, filing taxes, even going to school or work — and it can be challenging if you live in a household without a computer and internet. In Philadelphia, this is a reality for many.
According to recent Census Bureau statistics, Philadelphia ranks as having the fourth-highest percentage of households without internet access out of the country’s largest cities — meaning more than 98,000 homes don’t have access.
“Even prior to the pandemic, in order to apply for a housekeeping job at area hotels, you needed to apply online … What were people [without computer access] to do?” says Lori Morse, a library supervisor at the Parkway Central Library.
In Philly, there are programs designed to help, including at community centers and libraries, and programs where you can get a computer, or internet access, for free.
Here’s where you can use a computer for free in Philadelphia and some programs to get a free computer of your own.
You can use a computer with internet access at any Free Library of Philadelphia branch if you have a library card. Most libraries even offer printing and copying services at 25 cents per page. Anyone who lives, works, pays taxes, or goes to school in Philly can get a library card at no cost. Additionally, Pennsylvania residents can get a Philadelphia library card. You can sign up for a card online, or go to your nearest branch to have a librarian help you sign up. Check out our guide to all the things your library card gets you. The full list of Free Library locations is available here.
If you’re looking for a job, trying to start a business, or find a new career, the Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC) offers a variety of services and learning opportunities, such as career workshops, job training sessions, and free headshots. Located on the ground floor of the Parkway Central Library, the BRIC is open to everyone, whether you are an experienced entrepreneur or starting your job hunt for the first time. The center has three computers, and there are 10 more in the main part of the library.
Using a computer at the South Street Business Center isn’t free, but it is an affordable option. The center’s main business is printing and shipping, but also has a computer available for rent by the minute. Email ahead of time if you want to print, but if you need to draft an email, send an application, or check social media, you can find a computer here in a pinch. Computer rentals are available for 25 cents per minute — a good option if you need to do something quick online, but don’t go here to fill out a lengthy job application — 25 cents per minute can add up quickly.
There are more than 20 public computer labs across the city, most of which are run by the city’s Parks and Recreation department. While you can find the full list of the community centers with free computers on their website, we’ve listed some here as well.
Located in West Philly, the Christy Rec Center has a free public computer lab in addition to its gym, pool, multipurpose rooms, and hydration station.
The East Passyunk Community Center is home to a computer lab with six workstations for community use. The computer lab is open select hours Monday through Saturday. According to John Medica, the director of the East Passyunk Community Center, these hours may change, so it’s a good idea to call ahead of time.
Located in North Philly, the Athletic Recreation Center has a public computer center with 10 computers. It’s often busy, so you may need to wait to snag a spot.
📍 1400 N. 26th St., 📞 215-978-2709 🌐 phila.gov/programs/rebuild/project-sites/athletic-recreation-center
This center, only a few blocks from Eastern State Penitentiary, has a public computer lab with more than a dozen computers.
📍 1737 Francis St., 📞 215-685-2762 🌐 phila.gov/parks-rec-finder/#/location/francisville-recreation-center
The South Philly Rec center was renovated in 2015, and includes plenty of computers inside their lab for public use. The center also offers tech help for seniors, as well as help with resume writing, and job-hunting workshops.
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