I came across a CBC headline that read “Kitchener Public Library wins award for lending the internet.” The article explains a new program that the Kitchener Public Library is hosting, where wifi hotspots (or “internet sticks”) are lent to patrons, enabling them to access the internet from outside the physical space of the library. As the author explains, “the program was started because statistics show nearly a quarter of people living in Waterloo Region – 23 per cent – do not have internet access.” Patrons only need a library card to rent one of the 18 internet sticks.
The reasons I find this article fascinating are as follows:
- Some people critique libraries as being outdated and bound to decline, but I think this article points clearly in the opposite direction. Libraries and information centers, just like any other ‘industry’, are adaptable.
- When I signed up for statistics in my MLIS program, I anticipated statistics being used to decide what books are acquired or decommissioned, among other things. One thing I did not think of was how a statistic could inform program development. 23% is quite a large fraction of the community to be without access to the internet, and the library responded by creating programming.
- Which brings me to access: by providing patrons with the opportunity to take the internet stick out of the building, patrons are no longer confined to the physical space of the library. Increased access to the internet could be critical for libraries (like the one I worked at) where there were only a few computer stations available, so patrons had to wait their turn, or were only allowed a short period of computer usage time. In short, the patron now has more options as to how to access the internet through the library.
- The fact that the Kitchener Public Library got the funding needed to finance this costly endeavor is very promising!
Some questions I have after reading the article include:
- How could Internet lending change the perceived purpose or design of the library? Will libraries become more known as a place for free internet than as a place for free books in the future?
- Would all library systems be able to invest in these programs?
- Did the library have to sign a contract with Rogers to gain access to the internet sticks? Does that have any limitations for the patron or the library?
- Who pays for the bandwidth?
- Are there limits for downloads with these internet sticks?
- Is the information from the internet stick sent to a third party for analysis (i.e. ads, etc.) or does it remain private?
- Does the idea of “lending internet” change our perception of it as a resource?
Feel free to discuss the article with me in the comments!