Does Wireless Really Mean No More
by Janet L. Balas • Library Information Systems Specialist • Monroeville
(PA) Public Library
of these days it's going to happen. It's just a matter
of time. I have had numerous close calls and near-misses
and I know my luck can't hold out forever. As Charlie
Brown would say, "I'm doomed." Yes, sooner or later,
the time will come when my director is conducting a tour
of the library for some very important people and they
will find me unglamourously crawling under a table, checking
on the network cabling.
Dealing with network cabling is probably the least-favorite
job of a systems librarian. It also falls under the
heading of "things I need to know but didn't learn
about in library school." The promise of wireless technology
is now being dangled before us by the technology press,
but promises are often far from reality. Does wireless
really mean no wires? Is it as fast as a wired network?
Is it as secure? Inquiring librarians need to know
whether wireless technology can truly deliver quality
library services. We need to know if it is safe to
come out from under the tables.
Learning to 'Talk the Talk'
As is true with every other new information technology,
wireless comes with new concepts and a new vocabulary
that may seem incomprehensible. To test your knowledge
of wireless jargon, consult the Webopedia's wireless
computing category and look down the list of terms
to see how many you can identify and define correctly.
(Of course, you might not even recognize one of the
words in the URLnotice the word "Wirelsess." It
is not a typo on my part.) While many librarians who
attempt to keep up with technology trends might have
heard of "Bluetooth" or "Wi-Fi," I'd be willing to
wager that there are few among us who could define
every term on that list.
It's not enough to know the words, however; we have
to understand the concepts of wireless technology and
its implementation in order to decide whether it's
a good solution for our libraries. You can find a very
basic introduction to wireless networking on the HowStuffWorks
site. It focuses more onthe use of wireless networks
in the home rather than in business, education, or
public settings. However, I sometimes try out a new
technology on a small scale at home and I'd guess that
many "techies" do the same, so I found that the information
was still useful to me and could also be used by those
of you in very small libraries.
Since I am considering gaining experience with wireless
networking by trying it out personally, and since I
live in an all-Mac home with one token PC, I decided
to look for information on Apple's AirPort products
on the Apple Web site. The site has technical specifications,
information on secure wireless networking, and instructions
for setting up the network and the base station.
Vendor Web sites such as Apple's can provide a great
deal of information on a technology as part of their
sales pitches. Companies that offer computer training
courses will sometimes offer brief tutorials for free
on their sites to demonstrate their training materials
to potential customers. One such company is WKMN Training,
which specializes in training and sales materials for
manufacturers of local- and wide-area network products
and services. At the time I visited this site, a mini-tutorial
on wireless networking was available for free. The
tutorial was a sample from the Web-based course titled
A Newbie's Guide to Wireless Networks. It began with
a crossword puzzle for visitors to test their knowledge
of wireless and then continued with a general discussion
of wireless, a case study, demonstrations of configuring
wireless components, an extensive set of links to additional
sources of information, a bibliography of books on
wireless networks, and a separate page of information
on community networks and hot spots.
Portals: The Place to Start
One source I use when I need to be directed to information
on a specific topic is the About.com site with its
guides on just about every topic under the sun. A quick
search on wireless led me to the wireless guide site,
which offers a portal to information on wireless networking
both on About.com and other sites. There is a subject
guide to topics related to wireless technology and "guide
picks" on selected sites about wireless networking.
When I visited the site, the guide picks included links
to sites on WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), WLAN
(Wireless LAN), Bluetooth, WML (Wireless Markup Language),
the 802.11 standard, a wireless networking Q&A
from Vicomsoft, and a discussion of design for wide-area
wireless networks from Network Computing.
Another portal site for information on wireless technology
is palowireless.com, which claims to be "the definitive
Internet guide to wireless technologies." This site
is maintained by palowireless Pty, Ltd., a consultancy
based in Sydney, Australia. The site's resources include
tutorials, tools, market research, news, events, forums,
and products. Some of the pages on the site require
that visitors register for the free membership. Other
pages are reserved for those who purchase the premium
There are also some organizations that support the
wireless technology initiative. One is the Wi-Fi Alliance,
formerly known as WECA (Wireless Ethernet Compatibility
Alliance), which is a "nonprofit international association
formed in 1999 to certify interoperability of wireless
Local Area Network products based on IEEE 802.11 specification." (Wi-Fi
is short for wireless fidelity.) The site answers the
question "Why Wi-Fi" and offers an overview of the
technology. There is also a detailed guide to creating
a wireless network, a discussion of security, and information
on advanced Wi-Fi configurations including combined
networks with both wired and wireless components. The
technical resources section offers access to documentation,
downloads, ordering information, and links to technical
support for all Wi-Fi member companies. The site also
has a section of FAQ documents, a glossary of terms,
and listings of members and certified products. The
news and events sections offers links to articles on
wireless in the news, industry events, press releases,
and a calendar.
Another organization of interest to librarians considering
wireless technology is WLANA, the Wireless LAN Association.
WLANA is a nonprofit educational trade association
that provides a clearinghouse of information on wireless
local area applications, products, issues, and trends.
The organization also offers a free monthly e-mail
newsletter. The Learning Center section of the site
has background information on wireless LANs, white
papers, market research, and a bibliography of suggested
books and industry magazines. There is also a discussion
forum open to all for an exchange of information on
Libraries That Have Already Gone Wireless
Libraries have begun to implement WLANs and have
begun to share information through the Web. For instance,
the Mid-Hudson Library System has put a Wireless LAN
FAQ on its site. It is very brief, but it does offer
links to sources for WLAN equipment and links to some
online resources and articles.
Another Web site on the topic is the Wireless in
Libraries Pathfinder, prepared by Karin Wikoff, which
offers resources for library decision makers contemplating
the implementation of a wireless LAN. Issues such as
mobility, speed, standards, and security are discussed,
and there are links within the text. The list of resources
following the discussion sections is annotated. The
only drawback to this site is that it has not been
updated since August 2001, so while some of the information
and links are still valid, it is important to keep
in mind that others may have been superseded.
It is always helpful to read about the experiences
of other libraries with new information technologies.
Cornell University's Office of Information Technologies,
as part of its IT Architecture Initiative, has prepared
a series of papers on the directions of information
architecture at Cornell. The author of "Cornell Data
Networking: Wired vs. Wireless" is R. David Vernon.
The document can be read online or downloaded in Adobe
Acrobat's PDF. The paper presents an overview of wireless
networking, discusses wireless technologies, describes
implementation issues, reviews security issues, makes
recommendations for deploying wireless networking at
Cornell, and discusses the practical implications of
We're used to being categorized as children's librarians,
reference librarians, and, since the introduction of
information technology in libraries, system librarians.
But soon there may be a new category called "wireless
librarians," and I found a Web page just for them.
The Wireless Librarian Home Page is the creation of
Bill Drew of the SUNYMorrisville College Library.
The site features an extensive list of links to libraries
with wireless networks, including some in other countries.
The list of libraries in the U.S. is organized by state
making it easy for librarians in this country to find
colleagues near them with wireless capabilities. Bill
Drew is also the moderator of the LibWireless electronic
discussion group. Information on the group is available
on the Wireless Librarian site, as are links to the
archives of the discussion group.
Wireless technology holds interesting possibilities
for libraries and it is a technology that we should
not ignore. I'm not sure that, at the present time,
it actually means there will be no more wires, but
maybe some day it will truly get me out from under
the table for good.
Janet L. Balas is library information
systems specialist at Monroeville (Pa.) Public Library.
She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.