Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The 'Magic' of Wireless Access in the Library

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The 'Magic' of Wireless Access in the Library

Article excerpt

In my years working in public libraries, I have discovered certain truisms that I am sure will sound familiar to many of you: No matter what time the library closes, there will always be that last-minute patron who comes dashing in with an urgent need for reference assistance or renewal of borrowed materials. Or a book that hasn't been checked out in years will be requested the day after it has been discarded. There are also truisms that are more specific to library systems administrators: The demand for public access computers grows exponentially every time the network is expanded, making it impossible to ever have enough computers available for patrons. Finally, any cable connecting a computer to a power source, network connection, or peripheral will find a way to tangle itself with any other cable in reasonable proximity.

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It is not possible to find perfect solutions to all of these vexing situations. It isn't cost-effective for most libraries to be open 24 hours a day just to avoid the last-minute rush, nor is it feasible to add additional shelving so that books are never discarded for nonuse. Technology can offer some assistance with online catalogs that allow patrons to renew their materials after hours, virtual reference services that have extended hours, and the tantalizing possibility of print-on-demand services for infrequently used print materials. But can technology solve the problems it is creating, such as the increasing demand for public access computers? One solution that many libraries are implementing to ease the demand for public computer use is to offer wireless technology that allows patrons to bring in their own machines and to use the library's Internet connection. It even does away with some, although not all, of those pesky cables.

Wireless networking, which can seem like magic to someone used to wrestling with cables, offers several advantages. But it isn't magic, so its implementation, like all technology implementations, requires careful planning from the network design to the supporting policies. Librarians who are looking to set up Wi-Fi hotspots can learn from staffers who have already implemented wireless access in their facilities.

Meet the Wireless Librarian

One pioneering librarian who has documented his implementation of wireless in the library is Bill Drew, aka the Wireless Librarian, of Morrisville State College Library in New York. At the time I was researching this column, his Wireless Librarian Web page was in the process of being replaced by the Wireless Libraries blog. While the page still existed, no new content was being added. The purpose of Drew's original page was to provide documentation of his experience with wireless technology in the library and to provide resources for other librarians working through wireless projects. The page had links to a bibliography of articles and proceedings, a book list, lists of consultants and vendors, links to free hotspot software, and examples of planning documents. Some background information was provided through a glossary and also through links to resources explaining how wireless works, how to provide security on a wireless network, and how to market the new service.

Drew's new endeavor, the Wireless Libraries blog, states its purpose as "to advance the use of wireless local area networks (WLANs) in libraries." Many of the resources available through his previous page can be found on the new blog, including the bibliographies, the marketing information, and a list of important links that includes a wireless checklist and a network diagram. Archived posts are also available. Readers are invited to contribute to the blog and comment on posted items.

One item under discussion at the time of my visit was whether the Lib Wireless electronic list should be continued. The resources on wireless access on Web-Junction and that site's use of RSS feeds were cited as reasons for discontinuing LibWireless. …

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