Faster internet is better
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, about 350 Wisconsin libraries -- including the public libraries in Hammond, Roberts and Somerset -- will have faster Internet connections by November thanks to a $4.2 million library fiber upgrade.
According to a press release from the DPI, State Superintendent Tony Evers said “more than 60 percent of our public libraries report inadequate Internet connection speeds to serve library patrons.”
Evers went on to say that many libraries are the only public Internet access available in small, rural communities.
Brenda Hackman, director of Hazel Mackin Community Library in Roberts, said she has heard patrons comment on slow Internet speeds, as well as staff.
“Certain times of the day are slower than others,” Hackman said. “We are thankful the state listened to the requests sent in from the surveys that they asked our patrons to fill out.”
Somerset library director Norma Scott said it’s hard to put an exact number on the speed of their Internet connections.
“They don’t zip along but they’re faster than our DSL at home,” Scott said. “We are definitely looking forward to the faster speed, with no increase in cost.”
Scott said in January they had 350 people using the Internet on the Somerset Library’s four computers. She also said it’s not unusual for people to sit in their cars and take advantage of the library’s Wi-Fi.
“People use the computers for a variety of reasons, like constructing resumes, applying for jobs, signing up for unemployment benefits, searching for jobs, using Facebook and email, playing games, taking tests, kids doing research for school or people doing genealogy research,” Scott said. “You’d be surprised at the number of people who come in to print off airline reservations or because their printers at home are out of ink and they need to get something printed or faxed.”
Hackman said it varies each day how many people come to the Roberts library to use Internet.
“In 2013 we had 3,071 times that our computers were logged into,” Hackman said. “This is roughly 10 people a day using our seven public computers.”
Michelle Johnson, library director of the Hammond Community Library, estimates 150-200 people use the library’s two computers each month.
“Our computers are in use pretty much all day long each and every day of the week,” Johnson said. “The need will always be there for expanding services. The library is very well used by the whole community for services with computer, faxing, scanning, and copying.”
Johnson said she plans to add a third computer to keep up with demand in March or April. When the Hammond library is renovated in the next couple of years (a firm was just hired to do a feasibility study of remodeling the current library space), she would like to add another two to three computers.
According to the press release, libraries were selected for fiber upgrades on their BadgerNet broadband networks based on need. Planning for the upgrade, funded by the federal E-rate program, has been underway since last summer. Fiber installation will begin in April and is scheduled to be completed by November.
Telecommunication carriers provide BadgerNet connections and are managed by the Department of Administration. According to the press release, 75 percent of Wisconsin school districts and 95 percent of Wisconsin libraries have a connection to BadgerNet.
The project will allow libraries to get a 10Mbps BadgerNet connection for $100 per month and up to 100Mbps for $250 per month. Currently, only 8.5 percent of Wisconsin libraries have connection speeds faster than 10Mbps.
“With so much information available only via the Web there is a need for ever greater Internet connection speeds in our libraries,” Evers wrote in the press release. “In addition to the information flow, slow connections have limited libraries’ abilities to offer computer training and Web conferencing.”
Scott said she doesn’t think the Somerset Library will offer more computer classes with the higher speed connection. However, she plans to add specialty classes as the need arises, like how to use Freegal and Freading.
“Our day-to-day life is changing with technology becoming more important,” Scott said. “We will continue to assist our patrons learning how to use various devices and databases while also providing a warm, welcoming environment.”
Hackman agreed technology and promoting better digital services is important, but said checking out actual books and materials still far outweighs downloading those same items. She reports that almost 70,000 books, magazines, DVDs and games were checked out in 2013, compared to 1,602 downloads of ebooks and eaudio.
“I think downloading is a wonderful tool to have in addition to our library,” Hackman said. “A library is much more than just materials that downloading offers. We are also the friendly faces that care about our patrons when they walk in the door.”
The broadband expansion project, which will affect all 17 of the state’s regional library systems, was made possible by the DOA, the DPI, telecommunication carriers and the libraries. Each year the DOA’s Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH) program receives E-rate funding to support broadband and Internet connectivity for more than 900 Wisconsin schools and libraries.
The Somerset, Hammond and Roberts libraries are part of the Indianhead Federated Library System.