What Is the Purpose of a Library? Maybe WiFi?

July 13, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

The misinformed believe libraries only offer access to free books, DVDs, and public computers in various states of obsoleteness. Libraries are actually a hub for Internet access, including WiFi. The Internet is a necessary tool and many people do no have reliable access either due to low income, homelessness, and rural locations. KQED reports on how San Francisco is handling WiFi access and homelessness at a local library: “What Happens When Libraries Stop Sharing Wi-Fi?”

San Francisco, California is experiencing record high homelessness. Businesses and people are abandoning the city, crime is running rampant on the streets, and law enforcement’s hands are tied. Homeless people regularly visit libraries to use the computers and the WiFi. Libraries usually keep their WiFi on 24/7 so their parking lots and outside areas are active hotspots.

The Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library turns off its WiFi at night. This is the only San Franciscan library that shuts off its WiFi, because homeless people visited the library after hours and the surrounding neighborhood had an increase in crime. Pulling the WiFi plug is another way San Francisco clears sidewalks and prevents people sleeping in areas.

“ ‘Neighbors in that area have been dealing with repeated encampments, open-air drug sales and use, harassment of local businesses and all-around problematic situations going on for a decade at this point,” said [Supervisor Rafael Mandelman]. ‘It reached its nadir in the pandemic in 2020. There were encampments on both sides of the street, the sidewalk was impassable, and the historic AIDS mural had been wildly defaced. Neighbors were being threatened. It was bad.’ ”

The library faced homeless people camping on the roof, hacking into their electricity, and breaking into a closet. After the library shut off the WiFi, emergency services were called less in the area. However, it is not 100% attributed to the WiFi shutdown. Some homeless people in the area found permanent housing, a mural was repainted, and other services were enacted.

While WiFi is an essential service. If the people and places that bring the service are harmed it is ruined for everybody. It is an ethical conundrum but if crime, drugs, debris, and homeless encampments make an area dangerous, then measures must be taken to resolve the problems.

Whitney Grace, July 13, 2023


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