Monday, January 17, 2011

Madison libraries are great, except the wi-fi.

I wrote this yesterday (Sunday), but didn't post it until today, because... well, if you read the post, it will become obvious.

I love the Madison Public Library system, and and I've been using the (relatively) new Sequoya Library quite a bit in the winter because of the south and west facing windows, which allow me to sit in the sun during the afternoon. Finding a place to sit and work, preferably a place with comfortable chairs and without a requirement to spend a great deal of money has been a quest for me for several years.

It happens that my house doesn't get much afternoon sun, and I like to get out of the house to work. It's far too easy to stay home when the weather isn't great, and I'm more productive when I work outside my house as well. There are simply too many distractions at home.

Now I don't mind buying coffee or a sandwich to pay my way for the chair I'm occupying, or the wi-fi I'm using, but it's surprising how few coffee shops have sunny afternoon seats. It also happens that, due to my short stature, typing at a table is often uncomfortable. A livingroom-style chair is more comfortable, because I can put my laptop on my knees to work. Yeah, I know I'm asking for a lot. That's why I like the sunny corner of the library so much.

There's just one problem. The Madison libraries seem to have a really hard time keeping up their wi-fi network. This the second Sunday in a row that I have been unable to log on to the internet at the library. Now, there are some advantages to this, when I'm trying to get work done. Just as at home, no internet means fewer distractions. But sometimes I need to get onto the internet to get a piece of information for my work, to link to a resource or to check my sources. A public library should be a place that has free and abundant computer access.

And lest someone suggest that simply use the computers at the library, they are all occupied, and users are restricted to ½ hour. It's OK with me that they limit the time per person, we all have to share common resources, but that's why I carry my own laptop. Libraries across the US routinely have free internet access, sometimes even when the library is closed. I enjoyed a wonderful early-evening summer hour sitting outside the Burlington, VT library, checking my email and looking up tourist information, a few years ago. The library had closed at 6 PM, but I sat on the bench outside and had no problem logging on.

And one more note on how people use libraries in Madison. There has been much debate about the need for a new central library, or whether libraries are no longer needed, now that “everything is available on-line.” The Sequoya Library is jammed right now: 3:30 PM on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Some people are reading the paper, others browsing magazines, others reading library books or even their own books from home. There are parents with kids browsing, playing games, or surfing the internet in special sections set up for kids. A group of teen girls are studying (or gossiping, or both) over in the sunny corner. In the “youth” area, another small cluster of middle-school kids are studying. All the public computers are occupied, and finding a free chair or table is a challenge. Both the staffed and self-checkout counters have waiting lines. Sounds to me like a public libraries, including all the books, papers, magazines, CDs, DVDs, and written public information that everyone thinks are “all available on the internet,” are all very much in demand.

Now, if they could fix the wi-fi, it would all be a happy scene.

1 comment:

  1. First, sorry that the wifi has been buggy for you at Sequoya. I've often thought that if I lived nearer the Sequoya branch I'd go in to work in those wonderful, sunny spots so I understand your frustration. It's been frustrating for the staff as well and they continue to try and alleviate the situation. I do want to clarify that the wifi does work at the other library locations. It does go down from time to time, but by and large is generally available. So if your readers live near a different branch they will have better luck with the wifi.

    As regards the public internet stations, I think you may have been looking at the ones that are 30 minute express machines. You can book other machines at that branch for an hour (perhaps more). The amount of time a customer can use on an internet station varies from branch to branch (depending on the number of machines and demand) but you can get at least an hour at all locations and up to two hours at some.

    As you can guess, I work at the library - though at another location - so I am biased, but I love your observations about what a Sunday at Sequoya is like. I've subbed there a few times on a Sunday and your description is spot on and exactly what I've experienced. It's nice to hear it from the other side of the desk.

    So thanks for your wonderful post.