July 19, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 29

Grant provides library free WiFi

Since its launch of the grant-funded “Alaska OWL” project last month, patrons of the Haines public library have enjoyed free WiFi.

In addition to WiFi, OWL has provided new computers and laptops, faster Internet service, and interlibrary videoconference abilities. The purpose of the project is to improve computer and online speed capabilities, and access throughout Alaska, benefiting those in remote areas.

The “Online With Libraries” project is funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Alaska State Library.

This is Haines’ first year with the program and OWL’s “first operational year,” said OWL Program Director Sue Sherif.

Videoconferencing enables seminars and classes to be shown between libraries. Author visits in Juneau, for example, can be shown in Haines via videoconference, she said.

Although the library still pays a monthly fee for the online access, the cost won’t go up because of overage charges, as it previously did every month, she said. “It will save us money.” Library assistant director Rebecca Heaton said the library couldn’t previously afford to offer WiFi.

While the free WiFi is appreciated, Heaton said that nowadays it’s expected. “It’s become like breathing…it’s become the expected thing.” As opposed to just a few years ago, many people have online access on their personal gadgets, such as phones or iPads, she explained. As a result, more people come into the library to use the computers rather than the WiFi.

For resident Jen Gardner, the service is greatly appreciated. “It’s great because I have no Internet at home,” she said, adding that she comes to the library frequently to do work. “I think it’s a great library service to provide to the community.”

Heaton said she’s “reasonably sure” the funding will continue. ”