Monday, March 12, 2007

Wireless Access in Libraries: myths and library reality. Part 1

An article about unauthorised wifi use and John Blyberg's opinion suggested me a thought to write about how wifi works at our library, that no above mentioned situation might occur.
I will not say much about what wifi is and how it works, as there is much information on the web (e.g. here). Wifi was developed to be used for mobile computing devices, such as laptops, in LANs, but is now increasingly used for more services, including Internet and VoIP phone access, gaming, and basic connectivity of consumer electronics such as televisions and DVD players, or digital cameras (Wikipedia).

So, on September 19, 2006 a wifi access point was installed in our library. Here are some peculiarities, that somehow can protect library from unauthorised wifi use:
1. A user must register him/herself and his/her laptop (PDA, smart phone, etc.) For registration user's name and devise MAC-address are needed, so that our system administrator always knows who, when and what for uses wireless Internet. It wasn't our idea, but "what if someone sends an abuse letter to our president from the library?", said security center - we had to obey and complicate our patrons' and admin's life.
2. The wifi coverage is limited to our reading hall and some adjacent rooms. That's why it is impossible to use wifi when the library is closed.
3. According to the library rules, our patrons can search information in the Internet only for their research papers or studies. Using e-mail or IM services, download audio or video files is forbidden. Proxy-server accomplishes intermediate filtration, so it is unlikely that wifi users do something wrong or violate the rules.
4. But in spite of all above mentioned restrictions users with laptops are mobile and independent. Independent not only from different wires, they don't have to wait for a free PC, they can work with software they got used to, they have no problems with saving information, they can also search not only free Internet resources, but all the databases (EBSCO, JSTOR, etc.) our library is subscribed to.

Since September 2006, 36 patrons have been registered as wifi-users, and they have used this service for about 70 times.

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