Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Does Wireless Really Mean No More Wires? Is Wireless Really All It's Cracked Up to Be? Can I Really Stop Fussing with Wires? (Online Treasures)

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Does Wireless Really Mean No More Wires? Is Wireless Really All It's Cracked Up to Be? Can I Really Stop Fussing with Wires? (Online Treasures)

Article excerpt

One of these days it's going to happen. It's just a matter of time. I have had numerous close calls and near-misses and I know my luck can't hold out forever. As Charlie Brown would say, "I'm doomed." Yes, sooner or later, the time will come when my director is conducting a tour of the library for some very important people and they will find me unglamourously crawling under a table, checking on the network cabling.

Dealing with network cabling is probably the least-favorite job of a systems librarian. It also falls under the heading of "things I need to know but didn't learn about in library school." The promise of wireless technology is now being dangled before us by the technology press, but promises are often far from reality. Does wireless really mean no wires? Is it as fast as a wired network? Is it as secure? Inquiring librarians need to know whether wireless technology can truly deliver quality library services. We need to know if it is safe to come out from under the tables.

Learning to 'Talk the Talk'

As is true with every other new information technology, wireless comes with new concepts and a new vocabulary that may seem incomprehensible. To test your knowledge of wireless jargon, consult the Webopedia's wireless computing category and look down the list of terms to see how many you can identify and define correctly. (Of course, you might not even recognize one of the words in the URL--notice the word "Wirelsess." It is not a typo on my part.) While many librarians who attempt to keep up with technology trends might have heard of "Bluetooth" or "Wi-Fi," I'd be willing to wager that there are few among us who could define every term on that list.

It's not enough to know the words, however; we have to understand the concepts of wireless technology and its implementation in order to decide whether it's a good solution for our libraries. You can find a very basic introduction to wireless networking on the HowStuffWorks site. It focuses more on the use of wireless networks in the home rather than in business, education, or public settings. However, I sometimes try out a new technology on a small scale at home and I'd guess that many "techies" do the same, so I found that the information was still useful to me and could also be used by those of you in very small libraries.

Since I am considering gaining experience with wireless networking by trying it out personally, and since I live in an all-Mac home with one token PC, I decided to look for information on Apple's AirPort products on the Apple Web site. The site has technical specifications, information on secure wireless networking, and instructions for setting up the network and the base station.

Vendor Web sites such as Apple's can provide a great deal of information on a technology as part of their sales pitches. Companies that offer computer training courses will sometimes offer brief tutorials for free on their sites to demonstrate their training materials to potential customers. One such company is WKMN Training, which specializes in training and sales materials for manufacturers of local- and wide-area network products and services. At the time I visited this site, a mini-tutorial on wireless networking was available for free. The tutorial was a sample from the Web-based course titled A Newbie's Guide to Wireless Networks. It began with a crossword puzzle for visitors to test their knowledge of wireless and then continued with a general discussion of wireless, a case study, demonstrations of configuring wireless components, an extensive set of links to additional sources of information, a bibliography of books on wireless networks, and a separate page of information on community networks and hot spots.

Portals: The Place to Start

One source I use when I need to be directed to information on a specific topic is the About.com site with its guides on just about every topic under the sun. …

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