wifi for me but not for thee?

Glenn Fleishman talks about wifi in libraries. His overall impression is that libraries who offer it are tending towards offering it only to patrons. Michael Sauers also has a small list of wifi in libraries and elsewhere. When I talked about the wifi issue at the Nantucket Atheneum, I received a lot of email from librarians spelling out what they were doing with their wireless access. Most made it available only to cardholders, a few had open nodes and a few even turned it off at night. I have two “local” college libraries with wifi, one has a campus-wide open node, one just started using MAC authentication with a backup login procedure if you’re a guest. Some places like Boston Public Library require cards but make cards available to [I believe] anyone in the state.

While I think the jury’s still out on the possible perils of providing free unmetered wireless access — by which I mean no big lawsuits yet — I see one potential downside to limiting access to cardholders. Login/registration solutions such as those offered by FirstSpot and BlueSocket and others cost money including ongoing maintenance fees and create one more layer of technology between us and the patrons we serve. There are times when this is necessary, but my own personal ethos says that we need to be very careful with each new technological hurdle we put between our patrons and the services and information they want. We do this with cost, trying to limit financial barriers to library services; lets make sure we’re doing it with technology as well. I’d like to see some good justifications for making wifi patron-only, as opposed to, say limiting upstream and downstream transfer limits or using monitoring software like AirMagnet or others. We have already seen the copyright arena become a battleground with people self-censoring because they’re not sure what the rules are. We’re supposed to be the experts, let’s act like experts.

There will always be software and hardware vendors who wants to paint a worst case boogeyman scenario about why we need to buy their security products. I’d hope that librarians will educate themselves enough about the technology and the culture surrounding it that they can make informed decisions that value openness and access not fear and vendor hype. [stuff]