Sunday, July 14, 2002

Comments to Web4lib by Bill Drew on Wireless Future of Library Computing

I asked Bill Drew if I could post some of his comments on the Wireless Future of Library Computing to this blog as I think he makes some excellent points. Thanks, Bill!

"I have seen the interest in wireless computing in libraries increase
in the last year. Since August 2001 I have done 5 workshops on
LANs for libraries. My most recent one was for the Nassau Library
out on Long Island.

I am amazed at how many librarians "just don't get it." I was at a
yesterday where someone made a comment I wasn't supposed to hear saying
she/he just couldn't understand why anyone uses a PDA. This was after
looked up some dates and other information on my Palm Pilot during the
meeting. This librarian is 25 years younger than I am.

That aside, Karl's comment about the laptop as a final destination as
NO is entirely correct. I actually believe there will not be a clear
destination for handheld or mobile computing for at least another
Karl's observations about laptops not being replaced by handheld
is also entirely true. The laptop will replace the desktop for high
computing needs. It is already doing that on my campus and in our

The section on how libraries can cope is excellent and should serve as
wakeup call. We do not have a policy in the SUNY Morrisville Library
the use of cell phones. We have policies about noise and ask laptop
or others listening to music to use headsets.
Libraries also need to lobby with our systems vendors to make the OPAC
interface more user friendly for hand helds . We need to push OCLC
getting netLibrary books working on such portable devices. Currently
books can only be read through the web interface.

Many librarians have played down the value of wireless computing in the
library. To do so is very short sighted.
Andrew Mutch makes some good points about jumping on the bandwagon
There is a whole literature out there that talks about early adopters
the hazards and pitfalls of being one. But, that same literature also
about the rewards.

Given that, WLAN technologies and other wireless technologies are
more mature than most people realize. The costs can be lower than
wire to every station. The benefits are tremendous as well. Here are
benefits I put forth in my workshops. Note that these are benefits (for
most part) from just the staff using wireless:

Flexible configuration of rooms using laptops.
Allow users to bring in their own wireless devices.
Can be cheaper than wired.
Fast installation.
Greater productivity and service.
U.S. - twice as many wireless devices as PCs (Forrester Research).
Access networked resources at meetings.
Extend virtual reference desk to all users .
Allow myLibrary service users to keep their myLibrary on their own
Enhance experience of users in study groups.
Provide printing from anywhere in the library.
Place computers where needed not just where there is wire.
Web based camera to send video back over network for security.
Wireless devices for OPAC queries and other access.
Bar coding and other scanning (shelf reading, inventory).
Allow reference staff to roam with access to network and library
Circulate laptops / PDAs with wireless.

These benefits are from actual experiences in many different libraries."

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