Connect to the Online World: Public Internet Access

Connect to the Online World: Public Internet Access

Posted on Friday March 11, 2011 at 10:21AM

Connect to the Online World: Public Internet Access

Every time I come to this Library Service Response in board training for the Plan of Service, I skip right over it. After all, Municipal Affairs, Public Library Services Branch covers the cost of the SuperNet and NLLS covers the ISP costs. You all have free internet and free wireless access in your libraries. It’s taken care of for you, so you really don’t have to set it as a priority – should be end of story. Right? And yet, nine times out of ten someone will stop me and ask what happens if the community planning committee decides that this is a community need? And yes, it does happen.

Quite often the biggest problem is community awareness of the resources you have available and the extent of those resources. I was down in Lethbridge last weekend for the Southern Albert Library Conference, hosted by the Chinook Arch Library System. During dinner we had been talking about public internet access and one of the library managers mentioned that some of her board members had only recently become aware of the fact that their library had free internet access during a review of their Annual Report!

The discussion had come about during the awards ceremony. One of the libraries in the system was being awarded for supporting Intellectual Freedom after the library had received a couple of written requests to filter their internet. The argument was that children in the library would be able to access anything, or may be exposed to what some other patron had on their screen. Their board had reviewed their internet use policy, and the Canadian Library Association’s Statement on Intellectual Freedom decided to write letters of responses as to why they were NOT putting filters on the library’s internet.

Upholding intellectual freedom does not mean that public libraries should allow anybody to view just anything. Pornography is not appropriate in a public place, and many libraries in our system have arranged their computers so that a staff member can easily observe the screens to inhibit the practice of viewing inappropriate materials.
So if providing free internet to the public is not a cost to your library, is this something libraries and their boards should be concerning themselves with at all? Yes. People need to be aware that this service is available, which may mean a promotional campaign. Also, even though library boards are not required to have an acceptable internet use policy, having one in place and it posting by the computer stations is a great way to proactively ensure appropriate use. Also, all library staff need to be knowledgeable in navigating the Internet, plugging in portable devices, logging in to the wireless network, helping patrons set up email accounts, be able to troubleshoot basic issues and make patrons feel comfortable using the technology.

Computer workstation use and website statistics are part of the Annual Report. These are great measures to use to see if the internet is being accessed by the public. If your stats are not as high as you think they should be, start considering what changes need to be made in order to make your patrons aware of this great, and free, service that is available to them.

Author: Northern Lights Library System


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