Not Just an Amenity

We’ve been hearing about the slow wireless in the library for months, if not years. It feels like half the feedback in our suggestion box is about the wireless. (The other half is about printing, so yeah, I think we’re a normal library.) And as I look at the dozens of laptops and netbooks in use around the reference room right now, I feel for the poor wireless router blinking its little electronic heart out over my head.

Photo by animalvegetable

The problem is probably a familiar one. The infrastructure was set up back when wireless internet access was kind of a bonus service — back when we were mostly creating capacity for what we anticipated would be a high-demand amenity. Well, “high-demand” was right on the money. We have three computer labs in our library, but even so there aren’t nearly enough public machines here to support the academic work that goes on in this building. And as it turns out, an internet connection is becoming a requirement for whole swaths of academic work, not to mention whole swaths of our library’s collection. And then there’s all the other stuff people do online, and that all needs bandwidth, too.

And you know that twitchy feeling you get when you go to a conference and there’s no wireless, or the wireless keeps dropping you? That feeling like you can’t really get a deep breath? That feeling that prevents you from hearing a word the speaker is saying while you frantically try different wireless networks and start muttering about cheapskate conference organizers under your breath? Yeah. Imagine something like that every day. It would interfere with my learning, let me tell you.

We’ve started hearing that some students use this as incentive not to multitask while they’re studying here, or that they’ve started doing more of their studying in their dorm rooms where the internet connection is more reliable.

There’s a fix in the works here, but unfortunately it requires a pretty extensive infrastructure overhaul, so it can’t happen until the summer. Meanwhile, ponder the plight of our poor wireless router, the hidden costs of moving toward electronic collections, the fact that I still love electronic resources even though they’ve got many hidden costs and quite a few hidden challenges, how much I live and breathe the internet, and how much I wish we could just hide the suggestion box until we finally get this thing fixed.

So yes. Having wireless is like having tables — students need the infrastructure to open their readings and do their writing and generally hold all their implements. *I* need the infrastructure to open my reading, do my writing, and generally hold all my implements.

2 thoughts on “Not Just an Amenity

  1. I feel your pain! We were in a similar situation in our small academic library. We had a donor give a substantial sum towards overhauling our entire campus wireless and making it one seemless system (instead of many separate pained little routers). It’s been so wonderful since then… reliable and faster as a rule. And I haven’t had to climb up to reset a malfunctioning router even once since then. So there’s hope! Best wishes on your upgrade this summer.

  2. Have you thought about listing above the suggestion box — “we know about the slow wireless problem and have a fix in the works, but it will take time and money to implement.” You could even add something about when to expect the improvement. A lot of time people get even more frustrated if they feel like no one even cares to listen to their complaint. But if they know you are taking action, well, they will be much more patient.

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