It’s Thursday night. The long-awaited rain has arrived and I’m at the Morgan Hill Library logged into the Web using the (fairly) new wireless access. Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) at the library is free and a snap to use: just open a Web browser, enter your library card number and PIN, and you’re in. If you’ve forgotten your library card or don’t have/never got a PIN, that isn’t a problem either. Just go the front desk and the staff will help you out (one catch: you’ll need a California driver’s license or some other form of photo ID).
Since the end of October, Morgan Hill Library – along with all of the other Santa Clara County libraries – has free high speed wireless Internet access for laptops, PDAs and other mobile devices. It had become apparent that the library’s wired PCs with Internet access were straining to keep up with demand in both the adult and children’s sections. Tuesdays were particularly busy since the Morgan Hill Library is not open on Sunday or Monday and wait lists for the networked PCs were necessary. The waiting time could be as long as 45 minutes, but patrons were patient.
With Wi-Fi the issue is resolved. Rosanne Macek, the community librarian in Morgan Hill, received her first report on wireless usage indicating over 50 logins in January and the feedback has been uniformly positive. Macek wants to get the word out and encourage Wi-Fi use. More good news: wireless will only get better in the new library which is taking shape behind the current library and is opening this summer. The construction plans call for about 20 study tables in the new library that will allow users to connect to power sources. According to Macek, “this is a huge improvement over what we have now since there are just a couple of spots where a user can plug into a power outlet in our current building.”
What about privacy and security concerns using wireless? These are real issues and the library addresses them openly and directly. The initial login page tells Wi-Fi users that the wireless system is not encrypted and thus not secure so the library “cannot guarantee the protection or privacy of personal information.” Simply put, you don’t want to be entering your social security number or downloading personal or financial information. For children, the wireless network also incorporates a filtering product which will block Web content and Web sites that might be objectionable. Macek explained that the filtering is accomplished by checking date of birth against the library card number which is entered at login and the software is implemented on the children’s side of the library.
Another challenge with the wireless system is the need, from time to time, for tech support. Users bring in a variety of laptops and wireless devices and the library staff try their best to answer questions. Macek explains that the real challenge is the variety of hardware and software that is used by library patrons – each with its own unique configuration. A couple of patrons have brought in older laptops and didn’t realize that a wireless adapter was needed for Wi-Fi access. In practical terms: the newer the laptop, the fewer the technical issues.
Macek’s boss, Melinda Cervantes is in charge of all Santa Clara County libraries and, like any good manager, is looking ahead. She noted that for a very small investment, online services have expanded beyond the cabled network of computers in fixed spaces to wireless access from all corners of the library. Patrons are free to roam the stacks, draw up a chair or sit down at a table to surf the Net. “In the future,” Cervantes wants library employees to “use wireless devices to text message answers to customer questions, locate books in the stacks and inventory collections.”
Word is getting out about free wireless in the Morgan Hill library. Check it out!
Robert Boyd is a member of the Morgan Hill Library, Culture and Arts Commission. Meetings are held on the second Monday of each month at 7:00pm in the Morgan Hill City Council chambers. Reach Boyd at [email protected] or at (408) 554-5398.