Monday, June 09, 2008

To WiFi or Not to WiFi

“It's not 1692, it's 2008. Santa Fe needs to embrace this technology, it's not going away," Santa Fe City Councilor Ron Trujillo says, noting that the area is already saturated with the wireless signals.

City Council will be voting on WiFi access in City buildings at their Wednesday, June 11 Council Meeting. This is not a public hearing, the Public Works Committee and Council have already held public hearings on the subject to hear from the community. The City and the Santa Fe Public Library and Board have come under attack for suggesting WiFi is a technology to provide service for Santa Fe. However, the Library Board, appointed by the Mayor who represent the community, and the Friends of the Library Board have both endorsed adding WiFi to the technology toolbox the libraries should have available to them.

WiFi opponents often use personal, anecdotal stories which have not been backed up by scientific studies to cite health issues. Library staff and the City’s ITT committee which reviewed wireless issues, pro and con, came to the studied decision that WiFi is not a health issue. Many who vocally oppose wireless cite studies on cell phones and cell towers; this is not the same technology. The FCC, World Health Organization and other international health agencies have not found the scientific backing to state that WiFi is a health issue.

Why do libraries support WiFi? The American Library Association reported that 73.1 percent of US public libraries offer wireless to their patrons. For most people, libraries were the only place free internet was available—that is true in Santa Fe. But our current access is only through hard-wired computers.

It has been published recently in the SF New Mexican that adding Wi-Fi in libraries would not provide additional access to the library’s hard-wired computers. That is just not true. The Santa Fe Public Libraries have 46 hard-wired computers to serve the City and County population of 142,000 people. In addition, the Libraries receive approximately 150 requests a month for WiFi. In old buildings, which are short on space, putting in more computers is a challenge. The libraries are at capacity for hard-wired computers. Plus there is no budget for the wiring and additional computers. The logical solution is to add WiFi so that those owning laptops will not take up time on the hard-wired computers. Over 123,000 patrons sign-up for computers annually. The libraries turn away patrons—students, families and business people-- every day as all computers are in use.

It is a moot point whether to add wireless or not, as the Santa Fe Public libraries already have wireless access which comes in from surrounding offices, homes, businesses and coffee shops. WiFi is in the Santa Fe Public Schools, businesses, offices, City Hall, coffee shops and most of the emergency vehicles in the City, including fire trucks and EMT services. The request by those opposing WiFi to make the libraries a “refuge” is not possible; WiFi is already here.

What the libraries are seeking is a stable source for WiFi to help students, job seekers and businesses. With a stable source of WiFi, library staff can offer workshops for seniors, students and those seeking to create resumes. It is a fact, the libraries do not have enough computers. Libraries can’t afford to turn away those seeking a way to get help in this difficult economy.

To add WiFi is not trendy nor short-sighted; it is a creative solution to provide service to the Santa Fe community.

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