“well at least they’re reading” the role of the judgemental librarian in media portrayal of library use

So hey, we’re in a recession! And one thing that the media seem to agree about is that people are flocking to their libraries more than ever. In fact, just like “man returns library book 75 years late!” the news stories about libraries getting busy when people are out of work aren’t even that blogworthy lately. But people still send them to me and I still read them. Often they have good factoids like “During the Great Depression, not a single library closed” which I found interesting. That line comes from this article in the Journal-Sentinal Online with the fairly typical headline Libraries’ many benefits rediscovered in hard economic times. Good, right?

I was enjoying reading about it until I hit these lines…

Library directors report circulation spikes for last month of about 10% when compared with December 2007. “Escapism,” was Waukesha library director Jane Ameel’s concise speculation on the re-emergence of libraries’ attraction. “I wish we were giving them David Copperfield, but so much of our business is in CDs and entertainment,” she said.

Do you see where I’m going with this? This library director seems disappointed that people are going to the library to feel better and interact with materials that they enjoy. I’m disappointed because when I read that sentence I feel that the library director values Copperfield-reading patrons more than she values music-listening patrons. I’m sure she talked to the reporter for 45 minutes and that’s just what he decided to pull out of the discussion. And yet, I think we should be careful with how we talk about what we do.

I’m not sure I’d go totally over to the other extreme and say that a patron plugging his laptop into an external power outlet at the library after hours was “rediscovering the value of their library,” but it definitely sends a more positive message about how we view our patrons than the earlier quotation.

do people even know you have wifi?

I was explaining to a drop-in time student today the difference between dial-up and broadband and satellite internet and wifi. She is buying a laptop. Her first computer. She is 83 years old. She is also probably going to be my future landlady. I said that even though she was in a place with no telephone, she could go to the public library with her laptop and get online pretty easily. All the little public libraries in my area have free wifi, and in most cases it’s the only place in town to get it. MaintainIT linked to a good set of sites where libraries (or anyone) can advertise their wifi for free. People zooming through town will know they can get online with their laptops at your library. Neat.

man using library wifi after hours gets laptop confiscated

This story about a guy being busted for using public wifi is making the rounds and, like the recent scrotum story, has a lot of possible ways of interpreting events. Short story: guy gets busted for using public library wifi when library is closed, gets laptop confiscated for up to a week. Longer story is in the details.

  • Guy in question has been asked to not use wifi in residential neighborhoods and so moved himself to outside of the library. Police officer might have a grudge, or a point.
  • Library wifi is normally turned off after hours but they have been waiting for a technician to “install a timer” (hint: look for off button, works just as well)
  • The police officer took the laptop to inspect it to see what the guy was downloading but since the library director is on vacation, they’ll be keeping it until the director gets back. They claim to be putting together a warrant to search the laptop.
  • The use of the word “addicting” adds nothing to this story and seems immaterial to it except to stir things up.
  • The police officer claims there are “requirements” to use the wireless, but that is not elaborated on in the story nor is that information available on the library website.
  • No one from the library has commented on the story as of this morning, except they’re quoted to explain how the wireless works, but it’s already around the blogosphere.

So, what to make of this? Is there a law against using wireless that’s made publicly available? Is it okay to confiscate someone’s laptop for a week while you put together a warrant to search it? How much responsibility does the library have to implement technological solutions to enforce their policies (if there is in fact a policy, which is totally unclear from this story)? How much weight does the police officer’s assertion that the guy was “feeding off something that we know the city of Palmer pays for” carry legally? Is this guy really going to face criminal charges? I’m sure there is more to this story and it may make what we know of it make more sense, but for now I’m left scratching my head.

I install wireless access points for libraries and I make the various levels of access crystal clear to them (want a password? want a new password every day? want to turn it off at night? want to limit downloading? want to block certain users? want to make the network invisible?) and let them make their own choices. These are all hardware/software problems, not social problems and certainly not legal problems. They may become legal problems if we shirk responsibility for maintaining and understanding our own technology, but can we please not let it get to that? [link o’ day]

wifi in a libraries, a uk forecast

By 2009, half the libraries in Britain will have wifi according to a new report form the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (pdf). One of the stated benefits is the fact that it will give libraries more flexible use of their space which is a real boon for tiny libraries. Just an update on the tiny libraries that I work with, out of the six that I work with and the one that is in my town, all seven have broadband now and three have wireless. When I started my job three had dial-up and none had wireless. I can’t take credit for all of this happening — I only helped directly with a few projects — but I think for the librarians having someone around to talk to about broadband/wireless really helped them feel more confident about taking the plunge with new technologies. In most cases the libraries are the only public internet in the town, it’s been a hugeleap forward in terms of rural access.