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 Many people view libraries as outdated sources of information; however, with technology costs declining, there are a number of things libraries can do to turn those views around.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.

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