What do we do when wi-fi booms?

July 30, 2009 at 8:18 pm 6 comments

We’ve been able to use free computers and Internet as a selling point for library services over the past few years. It has led to an increase in patron visits for most libraries and continues to be a major service provided for many patrons. Overall, the only major problem patrons have with Internet usage in libraries is the ability to customize the computer to their liking (i.e. download/update software, files, etc.). 

Wi-fi is a nice addition as it allows patrons more access to more content and the ability to download software without having to worry about the library policies and security settings. Considering the latest drop in laptop prices and the rise of the netbook, wi-fi is becoming a major sell for many of our patrons.

But what happens when wi-fi becomes commonplace?

The affordability of laptops and other wi-fi enabled devices becomes more negligible each day. Just this past weekend the Trenton-area circulars advertised laptops for under $200. Wi-fi cellphones may still cost a bit right now but two years down the road, when it’s time to re-sign your cellphone contract and get the free upgrade, don’t be surprised is wi-fi is standard or available on the lower end models. Even personal gaming systems have wi-fi capabilities; no upgrades required.

The point is, the ability to access wi-fi is already here, the thing holding it back is where to find free wi-fi… and that is quickly growing.

This past week, my family and I took a vacation to Deep Gap, North Carolina. Don’t feel bad if the name doesn’t ring a bell, its major selling point is that it is in the middle of nowhere and hard to find. That said, the recreation center had free wi-fi for all visitors and residents. The Burger King we stopped into to let the girls burn some energy on the playground also had free wi-fi for all its customers. As a matter of fact, we probably had more difficulty getting a good cellphone signal than we did finding a wi-fi signal (this was certainly the case in the Blue Ridge Mountains).

Many companies, social organizations and eateries are finding out what most libraries know; free wi-fi brings in more people and that means more sales. Going to Google and typing in “Free wi-fi New Jersey” pulls up several sites dedicated to finding free signals. Some of the sites even catagorize the signals by establishment (restaurant, hotel, spas).

I’m happy to say that libraries still seem to be the leader of free wi-fi areas for most of these sites.

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6 Comments

  • 1. librarianwoes  |  July 31, 2009 at 6:07 am

    $350 (the cheapest I've seen a full fledged laptop for) is still a lot of money for someone looking for employment. Factor in the average person's clueless factor and libraries aren't going to lose patrons anytime soon. Libraries are still a comfortable places that do not require people to purchase things so as not to be loitering.

    … And then there is always the looming and inevitable computer crime that has yet to happen that will make any open WiFi networks legal nightmares. Which incidentally is why municipal WiFi hasn't happened.

    I think we're safe for a while yet.

  • 2. Janie L. Hermann  |  July 31, 2009 at 8:35 am

    I had just finished reading an email from Barnes and Noble announcing that they will now offer free wi-fi in all their stores and was thinking the same thoughts as Ty on this topic.

    Here is a web version of the announcement:
    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/help/cds2.asp?r=1&PID=27206

  • 3. waltc  |  July 31, 2009 at 10:23 am

    I'm not sure I get it. Unless you're suggesting that public libraries are only used as free wifi sources/free internet access sources, I'm not sure what the issue is. What do you do when wi-fi booms? What you did before: Offer a wide range of prepaid ways for people to inform, entertain and transform themselves. (Actually, the city I used to live in does have citywide WiFi, thanks to Google, and it apparently hasn't resulted in crimewaves…and it certainly didn't result in an empty or even uncrowded library!)

  • 4. Doug  |  July 31, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I can appreciate Tyler's thoughts becuase as a free wifi "wanderer" with my Ipod Touch, I am finding it much less difficult to catch a signal than I thought when I got the device. However, I think we should also remember that libraries offer a range of services (one of which is Wifi).

    Libraries have their competitors in regards to certain specific services, but I have not seen the model that completely emulates the range of services we offer.

    As long as libraries use forward thinking and look creatively to expand and improve this range of services, we can continue to be an integral part of our communities.

  • 5. cwood  |  July 31, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Libraries provide free public Internet service whether wi-fi, T1 or cable, however technology service in my library is expanding daily. Last month one other staff member and I fielded 418 technology questions in addition to our daily duties. We began tracking statistics for these inquiries as they fell outside the traditional reference and general information statistics compiled in past years.

    Please keep moving ahead @ your library. Perhaps B&N is feeling the heat;-)

  • 6. Cindy  |  July 31, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    You know, when I visit the Princeton Library (hi, Janie) I am always a little surprised at the number of people using library computers and library wi-fi. Then I realize that the social aspect is what people are seeking.
    And, in my library (Paterson), folks who take home $800 a month can barely pay rent – they need us. But, even if the costs come down, all libraries serve as a community anchor – community contact, information experts – and books, too!


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