Public wi-fi provides an online civic space

By Nik Butler

With the advent of public wi-fi the internet has finally escaped the confines of library terminals in Horsham.

There is a mixed bag of emotions when we discuss something as technically divisive as the internet being available in what was more recently, and incorrectly,  viewed as an archaic establishment. Whilst I have in previous articles spoken about my love of libraries and how these are spaces that should be protected and invested in, the prospect of easy online availability invokes a sense of hope.

With the arrival of public wi-fi and the opportunities for people to bring their own laptops into such cathedral spaces evokes a  change in how we perceive that public space. Certainly the functionality will be limited only by the bandwidth of the connections available or the filters imposed by the council.

However, delivering the internet beyond those terminals  provides an opportunity for co-working and hackspace communities to share a public space separated from  coffee shops and restaurants. There are  many examples online discussing those benefits of civic spaces and internet access changing the presumed nature of an already shared public space into a collaborative and open area to share skills and to progress online projects.

Wireless internet access frees up Horsham Library to encourage active collaboration in the Wikimedia project enabling Wikipedia curators to actively fact-check articles against local literature searching for qualification of online “facts”. Placing internet access via wi-fi enables users to avoid the risks of placing private website details on public terminals though it says nothing for the upstream monitoring of online activities.

The internet has always been more than the next television delivery service or an upgrade to our newspaper services – it is a part of the intellectual nervous system of humanity; by pulling information from library shelves and facilitating fact checking and updating online services we increase understanding of Horsham on a global level.

Though such grand intentions require commitment and attention to those provided services and I fear for many visiting the library the prospect of keyboards and laptops clicking and tapping away will be more off putting than the presence of mobile phones or small children. Change is however inevitable and the gains available to our district are greater than the detractors presented by the more technologically phobic members.

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