Public Libraries remain the sole institution that provides free public internet use and with three quarters of communities in the Unites States of America relying on them to supply free internet access and services (Bertot, Jaeger, McClure, Wright & Jensen, 2009), the challenge is to maintain adequate services to meet this demand and fulfil a critical objective of library policy which is to provide information access for all users.
The current global financial crisis has created high unemployment and reduced personal wealth, resulting in a greater demand for free internet services as supplied by public libraries. Patrons are using the internet more and more to look for jobs, contact social services and find places to live (Van Sant, 2009), while economic cuts to public libraries are affecting staffing and services and limiting opening hours.
The growing demand for internet training and services by the community places more pressure on public libraries as staff need extra training to keep up with emerging technologies (Bertot et al, 2009; Alia , 2011) . Libraries are endeavouring to improve services by increasing the number of workstations, making connection speeds faster, securing robust band widths and providing more wireless access. Due to the burden of servicing the internet needs of a large community, most libraries have time restrictions placed on internet use.
Public Libraries in Australia are experiencing similar problems with budget restrictions not keeping pace with the growing demand for internet access. Many libraries are struggling to sustain the cost of providing free WI FI to their patrons and finding the time to train staff to be IT competent (Alia survey, 2011). As in the American study, there are problems with slow broadband speeds, inadequate number of terminals and lack of assistance from library staff.
The emerging ‘Cloud computing’ platform has the potential to solve many of these problems, with the ability to “link millions of users to thousands of computers simultaneously” (Nelson, 2009). Cloud computing involves both data and software being accessible on the net resulting in reductions in the cost of expensive hardware, maintenance and power. Libraries will be able to utilise the expertise of the cloud service providers, eliminating the need to have an IT support team on hand in the library. The ‘open cloud’ using “open standards, open interfaces and open-source software” (Nelson, 2009) would allow libraries to be linked globally, increasing collaboration and service sharing. Security and privacy concerns would be minimised as libraries could utilise the latest security technologies available through the cloud. A solution to the global problem of public libraries supplying sufficient and efficient internet access, within their financial budgets, lies with cloud computing.
Alia Internet Access in Public Libraries Survey (2011). Australian Library and information Association. Retrieved from http://www.alia.org.au/advocacy/internet.access/Internet.Access.Survey.2011.pdf
Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., McClure, C. R., Wright, C. B., & Jensen, E. (2009). Public libraries and the Internet 2008-2009: Issues, implications, and challenges. First Monday, 14(11). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/2700/2351
Nelson, M. R. (2009). Building an open cloud [Cloud computing as platform]. Science, 324(5935), 1656-1657. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/cgi/reprint/324/5935/1656.pdf
Van Sant, W. ( 2009). Librarians now add social work to their resumes. St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved from http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/article1008244.ece