Wireless and My Library

Submitted by Aaron on Wed, 02/25/2004 - 03:57

I wasn’t quite aware how popular our wireless network was until ceased to operate correctly. The problem was simple enough, but it took about a week to correct. In this period of time I was called upon many times to help people connect their laptops to the network. To tell them that they wouldn’t be able to connect for a week was a gut wrenching experience. I was the driving force behind the implementation of the network at the library, and I knew having to turn people away wasn’t helping the success of the project. However, people seemed very understanding, especially when I offered them a wired connection with speed well beyond their DSLs at home. I recorded the phone numbers of the people I had to turn away, and called them once the network was again up and running. While statistics haven’t been formally kept yet, I think the estimate of 2-4 people per day using the wireless network is a very conservative one. I’m only at the library a portion of the time it is open, and only in the public areas a portion of that time. It is likely that more people are using it than I’ve seen.People have been using the wireless network for a variety of different reasons, and in a variety of different ways. Some people use it as a backup for when their connection at home is down, others are starting to depend on it. One patron decided to buy a laptop with 802.11g capability and cancel her home ISP upon hearing about the wireless network at the library. While she often used the wired connection in the library, it wasn’t until the wireless network was implemented that she decided to cancel her Internet service at home. Perhaps this is because of how convenient network can be. The patrons, as of now, use it on their terms, wherever they are comfortable in the library, and have all of their programs and files. Presently I’m working on pushing a page to the patron’s wireless devices upon connection so that we still get our AUP. This is more important to the board than it is the librarians.

One of the neatest things about the wireless network is that it is another excuse for me to talk to patrons. While there’s always an opportunity to great patrons and ask if they would like some assistance, their ears tend to perk up when I ask them if they are using the library’s wireless network. Only a few times has this lead to someone actually connecting that hadn’t, but talking about technology with patrons alerts them to the current state of libraries. “Hey, we’re here, we’re hip, we know what you need, so use us dammit!� Asking about people laptops has opened the door for me to talk about remote access to library databases, and books on MP3, among many other things.

There is one thing subtle but neat thing about the wireless network that any library with one can do: brand your network. In stead of having generic names for your SSIDs, or even ones that read “Circ,� “Reference,� etc…, brand them with your library’s name. Ours read, “Thomas Ford Youth Services,� “Thomas Ford Reference,� etc… Not only does this make it easier for patrons to choose an access point, it gets our library’s name associated with hip technology.

Implementing a wireless network was a relatively cheap way to provide another service to a demographic that might likely scoff at the idea of library.