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]

IM and ask a librarian services

Aaron’s posted a brief transcript of one of the text messages he got at the library which uses a lot of IM-speak. Let’s remember that the more people use IM, the more “ask a librarian” sessions can seem like another place to chat and goof around. We already have the problem of library students and other people “testing” the system. Is there a problem with virtual reference only working as long as it doesn’t become too popular?

technology pitfalls – backing the wrong horse

Jenny is back on the scene with a Movable Type based site. As you may or may not know, this site runs on Movable Type as well. I’ve got other sites running on WordPress, Blogger, or even just old hand-coded goodness. In preparation for the Information Commons symposium this weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about online products versus online content. We all know how smart Jenny is technologically, and yet she was temporarily brought down by non-functioning software. Jessica is also a smart cookie but has been drowning in comment spam. I like to think I’m pretty bright, but I’m dead in the water when ibiblio goes down, or gets a DoS attack.

How many times do libraries say their internet connection isn’t working when what they mean is Internet Explorer has been taken over by browser hijacks? How much do we wince when we see AOL advertisements claiming to be able to “fix” the internet? In my beginner email class, people have a lot of questions about attachments, thinking that “the internet” is causing their frustrating attachment woes instead of conflicts between proprietary software. Wouldn’t you like to read a news article that described a new virus in terms of the operating systems and/or software that was vulnerable instead of just painting the danger with the widest possible strokes? There’s a larger point here, beyond just pointing out deficiencies. As librarians, we need to be able to deliver information. If the technology is keeping us from doing that, we should hope that we’re not so married to the information delivery mechanism that we can’t retool and endrun and deliver the goods, not just say “computers are hard” or “we’ve got a licensing agreement” or “this software doesn’t do that” and throw up our hands. It’s been fun watching folks grapple with this in their weblog worlds, I hope we can apply the same troubleshooting and solutions to our libraries as well.

hi – 23oct

Hi. I received a very nice and sincere apology from the bad-review lady, in case anyone is wondering, and I’m sorry she decided to take her blog down, a move which I neither suggested nor desire. I wrote her back saying that while I admire people who speak their mind, in a small community like ours sometimes discretion is the better part of writing in a public forum. And, as someone who has gotten some serious hell for shooting my mouth off online, I certainly sympathize. I’m off to the Vermont Bloggercon, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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