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Systems Librarian

Free wireless internet access in Public libraries!

WiFi in South African Library's


Value of public libraries
Library as a physical facility continues to be much valued and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The role of public library as a centre for getting knowledge and information, for recreation purposes or as a social institution, remains paramount. Therefore, books will continue to be the main resource in our libraries though the internet and e-resources need to be integrated into our scheme of things since they have advantages because of quick search and dissemination.

The value of public libraries is, in one way, dependent on how well they perform their role, in other words, how well public library services meet the needs of their communities and how the impact they make is valued by the citizens and the communities they serve. Public libraries are being reinvented. They are increasingly seen as the shared ground in an increasingly diverse society, a place where the whole community can feel a connection. They also provide the vital link to our digital future.


The digital age

Public libraries were once feared to be headed for obsolescence as the digital age made massive amounts of information accessible from a home computer. But now, in addition to helping patrons/users find the latest Stephen King novel, libraries have adapted  and prospered by offering perks like free internet access, computer skills classes and assistance in navigating the flood of resources on the Internet.

But for many, it's all about the Internet, which has turned out to be an advantage for public libraries. While most people surf online at home, most don't have Internet access. Serving that population should be part of a public library's critical mission.


WiFi in South African public libraries!

Most public libraries in South Africa currently have internet access for their users/patrons. History dictates, South Africa has followed the developments of the European and American libraries for many years. Even though a few years behind other public libraries in the world…public libraries in South Africa should investigate the viability of implementing free wireless internet access in their libraries.


                               WiFi Boksburg Library


Advantages of WiFi

  • No Maintenance (hardware and software).
  • No risk of theft (no PC workstations or kiosks).
  • No waiting for public internet PC or Kiosk.
  • No enforced time limits (connect for as long as you like).
  • Less staff impact (enforced register, regulate time limits, user assistance).
  • User/patron downloads and save files permanently to their laptop/notebook.
  • Better utilization of floor space


Limitations of WiFi
Signal strength varies within the Library.

Why should public libraries provid this service?

The library’s goal is to provide access to informational, educational, and recreational resources and to make efficient use of technology; a wireless network fits well with that goal. It also has the advantage of freeing up public use computers for others to use.


Libraries are a key part in the growth and development of new knowledge and understanding. Information technology and networking now make it possible to manipulate and move information with ease; to package information in ways that can excite and enrich. We are already seeing the Internet being adopted by public librarians as a resource alongside CD-Rom. Free wireless internet connection allowing patrons to use their laptops/notebooks.




What is WiFi?

WiFi is radio wave technology which allows an appropriately equipped device to access the Internet from within a public library without physically connecting to a network via Ethernet or a phone line.






What do I need?

You need a laptop/notebook equipped with an IEEE compatible wireless network card. Most laptops/notebooks have wireless cards built-in, for others you can purchase a compatible card to plug into your computer. Just launch your web browser to establish a connection to the WiFi Network. Your browser’s homepage will appear and you may begin surfing immediately.
(You’ll also need a charged battery. Some of the library’s study tables are near electrical outlets, but not all)


Can I print from the wireless networks?

No. There are no printers configured on the wireless network. To print you should save your documents and print when you get home or e-mail it to yourself.

Can library staff assist with the setup & configuration?

The library provides and maintains this wireless network as a public service. Patrons are responsible for the setup and configuration of their own (WiFi) laptop/notebook. Library staff should not assist in setting up laptop/notebook to work with the wireless network.


Does South Africa have any WiFi hotspots?

Most business have WiFi but it is only used in-house for their employees


  Free wireless internet access

Many public libraries have reported a steady growth with visits rising, as cardholders and circulation stayed steady or even in some public libraries declined. One reason for that paradox is that Internet usage in libraries has increased - and yes, some of it is young people accessing Facebook and other social networks and some of it is people checking emails, downloading, applying for jobs and doing a spot of internet shopping. Internet users have steadily increased year by year.


Yesterday’s libraries were places where people could borrow books, enabling them to experience the fascinating world of reading.  Today’s libraries, however, are communication centres where patrons can access the Internet, borrow CD-ROMs, music compact discs, e-books, videos, DVDs, etc. Free wireless Internet access to patrons is being provided by most American and European Libraries, enabling the patrons to use their personal laptops/notebooks at the library without being connected to any phone lines or other “wires.”

Date: 13 December 2008 



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