Diversity & Inclusion
Digital access

380k wireless logins last year to Brooklyn Public Library, a home for tech

Libraries are only more important in the information age, as evidenced by the dramatic increase in wifi useage at the 60 Brooklyn Public Library locations.

Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons, Brooklyn Public Library Photo by Brady Dale.

In 2013, the Brooklyn Public Library hosted 379,168 WiFi sessions across its borough-wide system. That’s an average of 31,000 times a month someone in Brooklyn got wireless internet access from the library, said the library’s Jesse Montero, Manager of Information Services and Public Training.

If you were questioning library’s future in an age of the frictionless digital communications, libraries are more relevant than ever before. This shouldn’t be surprising at all. Libraries aren’t about books: they are about information. In an Information Age, communities need their resources more than ever.

Here are a few ways that the Brooklyn Public Library is providing a technological infrastructure for those without access to the Internet and how it could help tech entrepreneurs:

  • Working on your startup from your efficiency apartment, but need a space for a team meeting? Coffee shops too noisy and crowded? You can reserve one of the conference rooms off the main library’s information commons with your library card. Free. Two reservations per month. White boards. Wifi. A door you can close.
  • Wifi access that never goes off. Some of the library branches have wireless fields that extend out past their walls. If your wireless isn’t working at your place this summer, you might be able to sit out on the patio of the main library and watch the runners go by.
  • Tablets for checkout. Through a grant following Hurricane Sandy, the system got a 1,000 Nexus 7 tablets for distribution around the impacted areas. They have definitely observed that the strongest demand for tablets is coming from communities with less income, giving these groups a chance to get a feel for this new technology. According to staff, none of the tablets have been lost yet, either.
  • The library is offering lots of tech based classes to people who might not otherwise ever get a chance to learn how to use these tools. Everything from Excel to video for business to online tax preparation.

Of all their offering, simply offering wireless is one of any library’s strongest roles today: “I think that’s the most under appreciated service we provide,” Monetero said.

Use of it has been ramping up dramatically. Montero told us via email that the system saw 120,751 sessions in 2011 and 209,316 in 2012. Meaning 2014 could break a half-million.

Selvon Smith, the library’s Vice President of Information Technology, said that WiFi services are provided free by local internet service providers. Cablevision provides wireless for 42 locations and Time Warner Cable provides it for ten. The library itself covers the cost at the remaining few. Smith is confident that no other entity in Brooklyn provides more free wireless access than the library.

Importantly, Smith added, the library has been a valuable advocate for broadband access to its communities. He explained, for example, that library staff and leadership advocated to get fiber access to Red Hook, and long before that they had to fight to get copper there.

More developments in tech at the libraries are coming, Smith said. Most branches are already using self-checkout systems. When the system comes to the main branch, it may also come with a sort of robo-sorter that looks at which floor books need to go to and sends them there, allowing staff to work smarter. It’s not quite at the point of the robot library, but moving along.

Montero would like to invite the tech community to consider the library as a place to hold hack nights, jams and coworking days. He believes they have the resources necessary, with the added benefit of being a neutral, non-commercial space. Like Brooklyn itself, he said, the Brooklyn Public Library is increasing its focus on tech and innovation.

Companies: Brooklyn Public Library / Cablevision / Time Warner Cable
Series: Brooklyn

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