Friday, November 7, 2008

Free Ride Wi-Fi

As libraries struggle to remain viable institutions and aim to increase their gate counts, they often turn to technology to bring people back in. Many people view libraries as outdated sources of information; however, with technology costs declining, there are a number of things libraries can do to turn those views around. One such method is by providing patrons and the public with Wi-Fi access.
Wi-Fi is the most popular system for setting up a wireless network and has been set up in many locations, such as at malls, hotels, coffee shops, and schools. At many of those locations, patrons can pay a small fee or log on to access the wireless network and through it the Internet. Many libraries are realizing the use of these networks and have been setting them up for their patron. In many locations, the patrons need a library card and with that information they access the network by logging on. While this does provide the patrons with a valuable service, it seems that these systems could be put to better use.
There are some libraries that are offering free and unimpeded access to their Wi-Fi network to the public who come to their facilities. This decision to provide the public with free access to the internet without logging on could in fact be used as a sort of marketing tool for the library. Offering free and unimpeded access to their wireless network and the internet, the library could provide the public with an appealing deal. Instead of paying for Wi-Fi access at other sites or even paying for expensive Internet access at home, people might be willing to go down to the local library and access the Internet through their wireless network. Setting up the system like this could help attract people down to the library and help drive up the gate count. Then these institutions could set up the Internet access so that people using their Wi-Fi would be sent to the library’s website when they open up their browser. By developing a creative website that quickly showcases other services the library offers, the libraries could turn these people into regular patrons, helping them remain viable institutions.
In addition this service follows the mission statements of libraries and does it in a cost effective manner. Libraries are meant to provide their patrons with easy and unrestricted access to information no matter what the medium may be. Offering free access to the Internet through their Wi-Fi network, libraries are setting up a system that gives patrons free and easy access to the information found on the Internet. Fortunately, this can even be done relatively cheaply. The Orange County Public Library system in California was able to set up free wireless Internet service in all their branches for under $20,000. This makes this service a very affordable service for the library that also can be used to attract more patrons to the library itself. By putting down a relatively small sum of money, libraries are able to provide the public with a valuable service and attract new people to their institution at the same time. By tying this service with a sleek website, the library in effect implemented a cost effective marketing tool that can potentially drive up gate counts and help them remain viable institutions in their communities.

Transcending Authentication

While technology and computers are great, keeping them secure has become somewhat of a nuisance. In order to provide users with privacy protection, computers and software are increasingly in need of authentication with usernames and passwords in order to limit access. Over the years the Internet and other networks have allowed more and more companies to provide their patrons with remote access to their information and files. These websites include ones like Amazon, retail company sites, banks, financial trading systems, and medical insurance providers. As these companies utilize the Internet and provide their patrons with access from the Internet, large amounts of personal and private information have become accessible via this computer network. In order to ensure the security of this data, these companies require patrons to set up usernames and passwords with specific requirements. Many times, these requirements vary from company to company resulting in one person having a myriad set of usernames and passwords that are needed to access their information. Now, frankly, my memory sucks, so I am constantly forgetting my passwords and which one I use at which site. This unfortunately means that I am all too familiar with that “Forgot your password?” link, and it probably takes me just as long to log onto the website as it would to travel to the company’s nearest site.
It would be wonderful for everyone (OK, mainly for the likes of me) if computer security could move past all these troublesome passwords and offer other means of authentication. This is why my jaw dropped when I saw a description of Transcend’s JetFlash USB with fingerprint readers. These little gadgets, which are the same size as normal thumb drives and cost a comparable amount, read and analyze fingerprints as a means of verification. Instead of remembering a bunch of passwords, it would be amazing if I could just walk around with this little thumb drive, and when I am required to access secure information on a computer or over the internet, I could whip out my thumb drive, plug it in, and put my finger on it. It would then verify that I am actually me and allow me access to my information. There. No more wasting time over failing to remember passwords. Heck, I’d even carry around a retina scanner, if it would mean that I did not have to remember any more passwords. There seems like there are so many possible ways that could be used to provide authentication in the place of the old password system. Why haven’t they caught on yet? If they want to develop DNA readers for authentication, I will gladly submit to the bloodletting each time I log in as long as there are no passwords. I know many people will see these measures as an invasion of privacy or as some government conspiratorial plot. However, they should not stand in the way of progress, and if they want to remain tied to passwords, they will have that choice available. But for the rest of us that are simply hindered by this infernal passwords driven society, allow that progress to be made. Hopefully these biometric identification systems continue to come down in price and are eventually accepted by society. When done right, they represent a very secure authentication system that will have a much higher convenience factor, but they will still offer powerful protection of our personal information that needs to stay private.