Hyperlinking our environments

“The purpose of a library is to fulfill its mission, which is lifelong learning and cultural literacy and bringing the community together. And we’ll chase whatever practical and economical means we can to do that, which is part of why libraries are so strongly associated with books – because books are an extraordinarily effective way to do those things.

But they have never been the only way, and more and more we are finding other ways and more creative ways – and really strange ways, sometimes – to really chase down the possibilities.”

Scott Bonner

This quote from Scott Bonner (Hemphill, 2019) really appealed to me. It summed up fairly succinctly why we should, can, and are exploring the different ways that libraries can connect people and connect to people. I work in a public library and see myself continuing to work in public libraries, even when the work feels difficult or boring, because I have come to appreciate the importance of what the public library brings to the community.

In my last post, I brainstormed a few hypothetical examples of how we can bring the library and library services to people who aren’t able to go to the library, focusing on the under-served community of people who are simply too busy to be able to make time for the library. Zuckuhr and Purcell (2014) describe another group that I hadn’t thought about at the time: people with low mobility who also can’t go to the library. I want to explore that group further at some point, but right now I’m still thinking about how to bring the library to places where busy people are already gathering out of necessity, like grocery stores, public transit, etc.

The busy people I imagine who don’t have time to go to the library are those who are typically low income and have to strictly manage their time spent doing jobs, childcare, eldercare, grocery shopping, and other tasks. While I had considered that people in this position may not have internet access at home, I hadn’t really considered that they may still have at least one internet-ready device, such as a smart phone. Zickuhr (2014) says that “patrons … rely on the library’s internet access—even when the library itself is closed”. Hemphill (2019) mentions that “In some towns, after all, the public library is the only place to … connect to Wi-Fi”. The idea of bringing internet access to people is an interesting direction for the library to go. As Zickuhr (2014) mentions, many people use the library’s wireless internet from outside the library when the library is closed. I once spoke with a homeless patron of my library, who said he would use the library’s wireless in the middle of the night, to chat with his mother on the other side of the US.

Extending the range of a library’s wireless internet could be a place to start. Letting people access the internet without having to sit right outside the library’s walls, especially if the library is near a park or other public area, could benefit people when the library isn’t open, or even those who just prefer to enjoy the weather. But this still doesn’t address providing access to people who aren’t near the library.

The library could be a driving force into making public wireless internet more accessible in a city or town. Of all the city services, the library seems to be in the best position to champion increasing public wireless internet access. Public wireless internet can be a risky thing to connect to but if it is part of the library’s services, security can be managed and people will be more likely to trust it.

Buses and trains could be fitted with wireless internet transceivers to allow commuters to use their internet devices without having to have a data plan. Public parks could become wireless hot spots that increase access in public spaces. Rainie (2014) suggested that some people would be interested in “Redbox-style kiosks to check out library books or movies if they were placed around their towns.” If implemented, these kiosks could also provide wireless internet access. Even removing the book exchange function, wireless transceivers could be put near places like grocery stores or transit stops. Signage on transit or kiosks could even provide QR codes (or similar technology) to quickly link users to library services or even to specific book titles.

The “Redbox-style kiosks” were an interesting idea to me. Having such things available at grocery stores, laundromats, and corner stores could increase the reach of the library to the busy people I mentioned before. Those people could get more value out of each necessary trip. Libraries often use bookmobiles or other such devices to extend their reach, but those can only be in one place at a time; having small dedicated stations in key places could help to extend the library’s reach. The kiosks would need to be serviced, which would be more difficult, but if managed well they could prove useful.

I’m still brainstorming ideas, but I like this idea of using wireless internet access as a way to spread the library across a larger area of a city.

Hemphill, E. (2019). A look at the evolving role – and shifting spaces – of today’s public libraries. Retrieved from https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/look-evolving-role-and-shifting-spaces-todays-public-libraries#stream/0
Rainie, L. (2014). 10 facts about Americans and public libraries. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/24/10-facts-about-americans-and-public-libraries/
Zickuhr, K. (2014). Public libraries and technology: From “houses of knowledge” to “houses of access”. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2014/07/09/public-libraries-and-technology-from-houses-of-knowledge-to-houses-of-access/
Zickuhr, K. & Purcell, (2014). From distant admirers to library lovers–and beyond: A typology of public library engagement in America. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2014/03/13/library-engagement-typology/

3 Responses

    • @michael Here in San Francisco, SFPL tried a program that circulated wifi hotspots and laptops but recently ended the program after a year or so (I think) because too many devices were not being returned. I’m glad that it’s a successful service elsewhere because I think it can do a lot of good. Hopefully someday soon internet access will finally be treated as a necessary utility so that cities can make it more easily accessible without it having to be a library-specific service.

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