Free Wi-Fi and Public Space
by Moata Tamaira
|Wifi users, Motueka Library|
The APNK provides free wifi in libraries around the country. This wasn't always part of our service however. It started small with a trial at Rangiora Library in 2008 and over the last few years demand for wifi at libraries has grown and grown to the extent that it's now the rule rather than the exception.
While libraries may have led the way with providing free wifi, more and more town and city councils are making this investment in connectivity for their communities too. Free CBD wifi continues to pop up in locales all around New Zealand.
So free wifi is out there but what does that mean for the public spaces it inhabits? How is it funded? What are the issues with providing it? Is it more successful in some places than others?
Recently I came across a piece of research that looks at some of these questions. "Free Wi-Fi and Public Space: The state of Australian public initiatives" came out in August this year and focuses on how and why free wifi as provided by cultural institutions and municipalities is implemented. It also looks at what effect free wifi has on the way people interact within and use the spaces where it's available.
Although this white paper doesn't focus exclusively on public libraries much of what's contained in the report could easily be applied to that environment. Any libraries that are considering providing or extending their wifi service should give it a look. Here's just a selection of observations from the research.
"...many public institutions are deterred from offering attractive Wi-Fi services due to cost and a lack of 'digital culture' in local government."
"Wi-Fi attracts more people to public spaces, potentially making these places more vibrant"
"Wi-Fi can also facilitate the delivery of municipal information and services to residents and visitors"
"...municipalities refer to Wi-Fi as a tool for 'activating' or 'revitalising' public space"
"Wi-Fi is an important mediator for sustaining intimacy at a distance, and can help to prevent a sense of disconnection or loneliness."
"Wi-Fi acts as a 'support mechanism' for travellers, helping anchor them both materially and socially.'
"Public spaces, especially those in city centres, must now accommodate a more autonomous and mobile workforce."
"When asked how people knew a particular site provided Wi-Fi, participants at the State Library reported that they just expected a library to have Wi-Fi."
"A Wi-Fi project should be structured around an open public area where people can gather."
If you're intrigued by this and want to read more the full white paper is available for download.