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The Wall Street Journal writes on the confluence of the need for information for job seekers, and computer and Wi-Fi availability in libraries: The Journal story runs down the demands being placed on public libraries as those who are unemployed or underemployed check out books, check job listings, and cry on librarians' shoulders.
Oddly, the article doesn't mention that free Wi-Fi means being able to cancel one's broadband subscription if you lost a job or are being paid less--saving from $300 to $1,000 per year depending on the subscription--and if you lost access to a laptop from work, you don't need to buy a new machine (at least immediately).
The article also omits the unfortunate confluence that city and regional budgets are full of red ink, and that libraries often find staff, hours, and new book budgets on the chopping block as one of the ways to reduce costs. It's a shame, because libraries are never needed more than during tough times.
The profession of librarian has morphed from shushing books stamper to information technology/information sciences expert--crossed with social workers. In Seattle, even in the best of economic times, librarians are called upon to deal with legions of homeless people who camp in libraries (often making good use of their resources, too). The Seattle library system has advocated for hygiene centers and more shelters to shift their burden onto appropriate resources.
[link via Muniwireless.com]
A very strange story out of Alaska: A police officer seized the laptop of a 21-year-old who was using free Wi-Fi from a library after it was closed parked in his car. The police had warned him off parking in private neighborhoods and using unsecured networks, and had told him to leave the area outside the library the day before they seized his computer.
The article is short on details. He wasn't arrested, but his computer was seized. The basis of that seizure aren't disclosed--what crime was actually committed? Trespassing, perhaps, as he was parked in a place he had already been told to leave? The computer isn't being examined by police; rather, the library's director will be looking into the matter. The fellow in question seems only mildly irritated, and neither he nor the police are sure whether he'll be taken to court over the matter.
The hilarious librarian Jessamyn West notes on her blog that there are a number of other unanswered questions, such as why the library needed a professional to install a "timer," when they could just hit the off switch if they didn't want it used after hours.
This reminds me quite a bit of the quite (not Very) Rev. AKMA (A.K.M. Adam) being asked back in Aug. 2004 to not use the Nantucket (Mass.) Athaneum's Wi-FI while he was sitting outside the facility by a police officer with a sketchy idea of what actual law might be involved.
I read through the Alaska State Troopers' recent watch reports, and found no mention of this. Anchorage police don't publish a blotter, more's the pity.
The flagship library has an extensive Wi-Fi network and staffers wear Vocera intercom badges: But branches have lagged because the library system has, frankly, been focusing on building. A levy a few years ago paid for a chunk of the fantastic downtown facility, and for branch libraries all over town. Last week, the SPL announced that seven branches have had Wi-Fi added, and all of the rest of the branches will eventually gain such service.
I've shared office space with fellow writers and creative types since about 1997 in Seattle, and since 1999, I've always been within one to four blocks of a library branch. It hasn't been on purpose, but Seattle is a book and library town. Every corner in most neighborhoods has some way of obtaining written literature and non-fiction. [Link via meatspace experience of Conrad Chavez]
The Greenwood Branch of the Seattle Public Library system opened Jan. 29: My officemate and I stopped in to take a look at this fantastic building a few blocks from our office and chatted with the branch manager. We asked, "Is there Wi-Fi?" She said, no, but there's a plan afoot to roll it out to branches soon. But she noted that the first phone call they received after re-opening was from someone asking the same question! It's a trend.
The library was funded by Libraries for All, a truly remarkable levy that helped fund our tremendous new downtown branch (Wi-Fi throughout, Vocera badges in use by librarians), and revamp or rebuild a number of aged neighborhood libraries that were incredibly overused. Some libraries are four times as large, and the community is overjoyed. We're apparently the readingest, bookbuyingest city in the U.S.
I'm hoping that the libraries will come before citizens again soon and ask for a levy to fund operator expenses: we need more library hours, more staff, more books. The libraries are well used here, and people seem to like to pay for them (indirectly). I know I do.
Ironically, a coffeeshop half a block from the library has been hoping they'll add Wi-Fi: the shop is too small to handle more than its usual packed array of regulars and passers-by, so they hope to shunt the Wi-Fi needy over to what will be a free service at the library.
All 79 Chicago Public Library branches have free Wi-Fi: The network is apparently live right now and the press releases don't indicate that you need a library card to use the Wi-Fi; some information resources at the libraries are restricted to patrons. The libraries already had free computer access and free Internet access, but a library card is needed to use the free computers, but guests can use computers if they present identification.
The library system uses Airespace equipment throughout, centrally managed with their WLAN console. Airespace also unwired the Seattle Public Library's shining new central edifice in downtown Seattle.
There's a public safety and government story here, too: city workers will be able to use a "secure channel" as the press release puts it--most likely a VLAN using 802.1X or WPA--to connect to city resources while on the road. This turns libraries into city branch offices, which must be useful in a metropolitan area.
There probably is little fear of contradiction that with 1,200 Wi-Fi sessions per week, the British Library's Wi-Fi network is the most popular (and largest) in London: The library officially launched its Wi-Fi service today through its 11 reading rooms, conference auditorium, cafe, restaurant, and outdoor area. The Cloud is operating the service, providing pay-as-you-go service and allowing roaming with its many partners. HP was involved in the build-out, although the press release is vague.
The library has 3,000 visitors per day, and a survey they conducted found 86 percent of them were laptop owners; many left the library to find nearby Internet access. The library expects its service will be even more popular than the current 1,200 sessions per week with this formal announcement, and the near-term completion of a rail link that will bring people at high speed from the Continent practically to the library's front door.
People with no interest in research will likely use the library as a hotspot; The Cloud's increasing portfolio of partners should encourage that trend. (16 percent of library visitors already use it as a place to sit and work, rather than a place to research.)
This ZDNet article has a few more details, such as the £4.95 pay-as-you-go rate, but doesn't note that The Cloud's roaming partner subscribers will have inclusive access, as the press release does. The political backstory is that the library was ready to have its formal launch in September, but government cabinet shuffling delayed the opening.
Jim Sullivan sends in this bright spot in the world of Library-Fi: The Arlington (Virginia) Public Library page pointed to by Jim--maintainer of the Wi-Fi-Freespot directory--encourages patrons and travelers to use their free Wi-Fi network:
Spread the word to friends and travelers!
By using your laptop at the library for checking email, surfing the Net, and doing research, you are freeing up library Internet stations for people who vitally need that access.
It's a lovely thought: if you've got a laptop, you can offload your computational need from their limited equipment.
Public and university libraries around the country increasingly offer free Wi-Fi as a way to serve or bring in patrons--but patrons only, please: Based on some research I conducted recently for a magazine article--link to follow in a few weeks--I've discovered that the widely cited availability of "free Wi-Fi" in public and university libraries should be called "patron Wi-Fi." In the majority of libraries I checked around the U.S., using Wi-Fi required a library card (municipal/public) or a student ID (university/academic). In some cases, a Wi-Fi card had to be registered; this is mostly the case at universities.
See Bill Drew's list of Wi-Fi libraries for the details on which libraries are restricted and which are not. And help him continue to improve his excellent list by sending new entries and corrections as policies change at your local library.
I don't blame the libraries for trying to best serve only their target population, but it would seem like there should be a way to allow visitors to have access without compromising the service.
I have often thought that free and for-fee locations could offer a hybrid. For free you can retrieve email (but not send it possibly); use, say, up to 128 Kbps of the local connection, and have access for maybe 30 to 60 minutes with your particular MAC address. For a fee (or as part of a purchase), you can open a VPN tunnel, use SSH, have full access to the full bandwidth, and so forth.
Libraries could offer a similar service. Free for residents, and a small fee--possibly a confederacy of libraries with a roaming plan?--for visitors. Given that many libraries are already locked down with a login system, it doesn't seem a big stretch to add scratch-off cards or other fee-collection systems to offset the costs.
But we'll see. It's possible that totally free and open Wi-Fi networks, like that at the downtown central branch of The Seattle Public Library and across several of the Los Angeles Public Library branches, might rule the day.
Update: Tor Godo of Sesame Networks writes that their company's product is designed particularly for offering guests access in a secure and controlled manner. Although their focus is primarily on corporate guest access, Godo emailed that they are in active discussions with libraries trying to strike this balance. They recently sponsored free Wi-Fi at Access 2004, an information sciences conference held this year in Halifax.
Jessamyn West files this observation about library-Fi, too, in which she talks about the costs of authentication, and why libraries might consider bypassing those costs altogether.
Newtown, Pa., renovates library and installs Wi-Fi, doubling town's Wi-Fi hotspot count: The small town of Newtown has a Starbucks with fee Wi-Fi access as its sole reported public Wi-Fi. This library isn't public; it's supported by membership dues since 1760. The library isn't sure whether they will open the Wi-Fi access to all, or just to members.
A relatively small grant of £60,000 will fund 10 rural libraries' Wi-Fi service: The backhaul isn't specified, but the program is specifically intended to try out bringing high-speed Internet access into areas that have little or no such service. The initial project sites include North Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Devon and Cornwall.
Lincolnshire's Vernon Area library will start offering free Wi-Fi access in March, joining a handful of other libraries in Chicago's suburbs: This story lists a number of other locations in the area including Kinko's and Starbucks that charge for Wi-Fi access but also says that the Westfield Shoppingtown Hawthorn mall is covered by a free hotspot.
Fifty-three libraries in the Bronx and Manhattan will offer free Wi-Fi access: The libraries will provide filtered Internet access and full-text searching on the database they've licensed. Alert librarian Jenny Levine notes that the service filtered but the library's initial disclosure is inadequate.
Princeton Public Library will offer Wi-Fi, and possibly laptops to check out: It's another routine piece about a local library adding free Wi-Fi, but with a couple of funny notes. Patrons unaccustomed to Wi-Fi technology must know it is less secure than a hard-wire connection, Ms. Burger [the library's head] said. "I wouldn't pay a bill (online) with it," she said. Actually, bill paying is almost always accomplished over an encrypted Web connection which is practically 100 percent secure if 128-bit encryption is used (the more usual default these days).
Another odd point. Although access will be free and The network will extend out to the new municipal plaza next to the library so a library user may sit outside and access the Internet they're also worried that the range typically spreads out so far that unauthorized users could take advantage of the service. So the library will set tighter limits. But if it's free and extends beyond the library, who is unauthorized?