“Yeah, we have wireless at our library…but we don’t tell anyone about it!” When I began looking at wireless for my library, I heard this more than once from other libraries. I found this very odd. If you had a new storytime format or some new DVDs, would you keep them a secret? What is it about wireless, or wi-fi, that has some libraries so scared? Is it that the technology is so new and/or difficult? Well, we’ve been providing some sort of Internet access at most libraries for some years now and technically wireless is simply another way to provide that access. And the libraries involved were clearly convinced enough of the need for wi-fi access to go through the process of implementing wireless, so why not shout it from the rooftops?
I realized there were two root issues:
- Lack of understanding of the technology
- Lack of staff involvement and buy-in
The first issue is very reasonable. Here’s my in-a-nutshell explanation of wireless for staff members who just “want to know enough not to sound like an idiot”:
Wireless, aka wi-fi, is data (in this case Internet access) transmitted via radio waves. What you once received solely through a cable now comes through the air. Best metaphor: land phone lines vs. cellular phones. Most people get that. It’s the same phone call, just sent a different way.
The second issue is a matter for you, as the project administrator, to nip in the bud. When you go to implement wireless, get your staff excited about it, preferably before you go live. Well, if not excited, at least show them the obvious benefits: “just think, if they bring in their laptops, we won’t have to hand out so many day passes for the computers!” and “the lines for the public computers will be shorter!” and so forth. Show them any handouts you’ve created for the public, so they know they’ll be able to offer patrons something when they ask about wi-fi. You have created handouts, haven’t you? Wireless is simply a new service you are providing, like public computers, a color copier, or a new storytime. Like any new service, it needs to be marketed to your patrons, encouraging them to use it. And your staff needs to be on board to be your best front-line advertisers. Shout it from the rooftops:
--Louise Alcorn Reference Technology Librarian, West Des Moines (IA) Public Library Author, Wireless Networking: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. Neal-Schuman, 2006.