UX Librarian: January 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Future of Wifi - E-Rate Expansion, White Spaces, and Public Places

If you are a rural librarian, you know that access to broadband Internet is a problem in mountainous, remote Appalachian communities. In the Dry Fork Valley region of Randolph County, WV, there is only one Internet provider creating a monopoly for this service. Additionally, the Internet infrastructure that exists is old and sometimes unreliable. While we have an Internet wifi at the Pioneer Library, patrons must obtain a randomly generated username and password from a librarian during business hours. After business hours, many patrons do not have access to the Internet. If you are a city dweller, can you imagine not being able to afford Internet? Can you imagine not being plugged into the wifi grid for more than 24 hours? Our mountainous terrain makes it difficult even for cellular phone connections in West Virginia. But there is good news on the horizon for technology in rural libraries, tribal libraries, and public schools in the USA.

Thank You Senator Rockefeller

West Virginia's own Senator Rockefeller, who retired last year, achieved many wonderful things for the Mountain State. One of them is the E-Rate federal program that reimburses libraries and schools for telephone, long distance, and Internet. This is a national program that enables small, under-served, and rural libraries and schools to have the very best technology connection to the rest of the world. As a last farewell to his adopted home state, Rockefeller pushed through a multi-billion dollar E-Rate expansion that will hopefully allow every library and public school in the USA to have a super-fast fiber Internet connection. Thank you, Senator Jay Rockefeller for your service to West Virginia and to the rest of the country. Want to read more about it? Check out this article from New America that explains the fine print.

TV Goes Digital Leaves Spaces

Remember when televisions "went digital?" TV owners had to either upgrade to a new television or buy a digital-conversion box. This shift of television to digital freed up a large range of bandwidth that exists with the current infrastructure, the hardware of the super information highway. A fellow techie mentioned a conspiracy theory that cable companies would not allow these freed-up frequencies/channels/bandwidths to be used to offer free Internet because it would bankrupt Internet providers. OK. That was the rumor I heard that sparked this little rabbit hole of research into a nook of technology that I knew almost nothing about. Still interested? It's about to get more interesting, or, at least, I think so. The freed up bandwidth is known as White Spaces.

Conspiracy Theory?

So, did Internet providers conspire to keep free wifi from the people? The short answer is, no. White spaces, as they currently exist have no antennae or towers to broadcast their signal. There is no public infrastructure for global wifi that exists...yet. Making this even more difficult is that current computers would have to be equipped with hardware and software that communicates with the signal put out by white spaces wifi.

White Spaces at WVU

Another aspect of white spaces that is of interest: the first pilot campus-wide use of white spaces is happening at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV. Here is a great quote from WVU’s chief information officer John Campbell, "Broadband in this state is a huge challenge. We’re very rural and very mountainous. Between the terrain and the weather, it’s hard on infrastructure.” So, even in West Virginia's larger cities, reliable and fast Internet is a problem. About a year ago, WVU started using white spaces as an infrastructure for a campus-wide wifi that unites three campus via this old spectrum that used to be occupied by television. (Here is a great article about White Spaces at WVU from Network World. It's also where I pulled the quote from the WVU PR rep.)

How Do White Spaces Work?

White spaces. Old tv frequencies. New Uses. Potential for super wifi? OK, here's the part I'm fuzzy on. I am an information scientist but not a computer scientist. If you want the library technology geek details, I recommend this article from Information Age by Kane Fulton way back in March 2013.

Who owns the white spaces? Technically, they are still owned by the television networks who ruled them. The Federal Communications Committee has ultimate power of these white spaces and may force cable companies to auction them off when the time comes. Think of this as auctioning off swamp land that needs to be drained before it can be developed. According to a tech source whom will remain anonymous, white spaces are generating a lot more attention from Internet Service Providers than the FCC had predicted. The auctioning off of white spaces will be a multi-billion dollar affair no doubt ruled by AT&T, Cellular One, and Sprint, the usual ISP and cell phone suspects. So what will the FCC do with the billions that stand to make in auctioning off white spaces? Only time will tell. But wouldn't it be great if the Federal communications Commission could invest it in future E-Rate programs so that underserved and rural libraries and schools will be ensured free technology for years to come? It is most certainly what Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia would have wanted.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Don't Steal Software - The Case For Purchasing Legitimate Software in Libraries

Maybe you're reading the title of this blog entry and saying, "Libraries would never steal software!" And while that should never happen in the 21st century it still does. I have seen single copies of software passed out like candy with the reminder, "Don't try to register it." As librarians and technology guides we need to practice what we preach to our patrons, colleagues, and board members. We use software everyday that make our job easier and possible and we need legitimate and legally purchased software in our libraries and media centers.

Stay Legal - Purchase Software

So what is the number one reason to purchasing software? It keeps you legal. If you or your library is caught distributing illegal software or illegal copies of software you could face large fines, jail time, and loss of reputation in the community. If you are a public library that receives funding from your state through a library commission you could lose your funding. How would you feel if your library was on the front page of your local paper for software theft? That is a loss that no library needs.

TechSoup

I use software such as Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, and Adobe Photoshop on a regular basis in the Pioneer Library. While these software can be expensive for private companies and individuals, TechSoup makes it easy and inexpensive for nonprofit organizations to legally purchase software. It takes a little time to submit paperwork and supporting documentation of nonprofit status, but schools, libraries, and nonprofits all qualify for software donations from the manufacturers. TechSoup makes it easy to keep your library legal.

So Easy To Pirate

While it may seem easy to just pass a CD or DVD around with software, each copy needs to be registered with the manufacturer. Why? For one thing, imagine the following scenario: You are working on your library's financial records using QuickBooks. Something happens, a glitch, a bomb, the blue screen of death, a software malfunction. Maybe your computer is permanently damaged. Maybe your software has malfunctioned. What do you do? Who can you call? If you call the software manufacturer for help, they will report you for theft. You have no software support, no one to help you with your software conundrum. When you purchase legitimate software you have backup and support from the software company who wants you to have a good experience with their product. If your illegal software malfunctions you could lose invaluable data or records from your library, media center, or nonprofit.

Software Developers Deserve Their Dime

And think about it this way. Software developers spend millions to develop software that is user-friendly, reliable, and time-saving. If Microsoft Office or QuickBooks makes your professional and personal life easier, it is worth paying for. How would you feel if you wrote a book and instead of buying it someone photocopied it and read it without paying for it? You would be mad, right? It's not fair, right? Same deal with software. The federal government takes software theft very seriously as it can hurt competition and profit in the software industry.

So, the next time you feel tempted to copy software that you have not legitimately acquired and paid for, don't do it. Take time to contact TechSoup and purchase legitimate copies of software. How cheap is TechSoup? QuickBooks retails for approximately $229.95. On TechSoup the price is $30-39. If you want to purchase Photoshop Elements for your library it retails for $299. The TechSoup price for PS Elements is $22. As librarians and media professionals, we can afford to buy software legally and legitimately. We can't afford to be arrested or fined for software theft. If you represent a nonprofit that wants to register with TechSoup and need a little help, stop by the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia, and I would be glad to get you started. Additionally, if you want to report software theft you can do so here.