Public Internet Access

The challenge of providing internet access to the public was a hot topic in public libraries in 1995. City Librarian David Warton reported in the Coffs Harbour Advocate, 2nd August 1995 from the annual conference of the Country Public Libraries Association declaring that entering the ‘information super-highway’ is an essential step if public libraries are not to become “outmoded”; however the internet at the time was too expensive for country public libraries to access and he hoped that a solution might soon be found. In December the same year he went on to report from a State Library conference on the value of public libraries to the community that;

… all agreed that access to Internet and other sophisticated information technology must be made available to everyone at their library – Coffs Harbour Advocate, Dec 9, 1995

Mr Warton also revealed that there were plans for Federal Government assistance with funding internet access for public libraries.

Coffs Harbour Library installed an “IP@T terminal” in July 1996 to provide coin- operated access to the Internet. Patrons paid for the time they used with no joining fees. This facility returned a small profit for the library each month.

To give a feel of the time, Roger Clarke’s Statement on Online Australia Day, 27 November 1998 states:

The Information Economy is built on the Information Society. People will bring to their work the expertise and skills that they have developed because of their participation in electronic communities. Learning will take place informally, through usage of the net, and formally, through courses whose content is largely delivered via the information infrastructure, supplemented by occasional meetings with course-advisors and fellow students.

For the Information Society to underpin the Information Economy in this manner, it is essential that access be ubiquitous. Access to the information infrastructure must not be thought of as a paid service, or as an optional extra; rather it must become available to everyone, everywhere, just as readily as the air that they breathe, and the shopping centres, pubs, clubs and coffee-shops that they congregate in.
– http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/OLADay98.html

In 1999, free public internet access was launched on a handful of terminals at Coffs Harbour branch. This was well received with 1,460 internet bookings in the 1998/99 financial year. It took another couple of years, 2001, for Toormina and Woolgoolga branches to also offer public internet access. In comparison, the 2012/13 financial year saw over 33,316 internet booking across all three branches with an additional 18,579 individual wifi (wireless internet) logins – these statistics exemplify the role of public libraries adapting to changing community needs.

The 1992 amendment to Section 10 the Library Act, to ensure that the core educational and information components of public library services remained free of charge, was further amended in 2005 replacing the definition of a “book” with a definition of “library material”, in view of the vast amount of non-printed and digital material that now formed part of the collection of a library.

With these significant changes in resource formats came the need for educating the community in the use and value of these resources. An article in the Coffs Coast Independent (Oct 2, 2008) featuring library officer Linda Brenton, who had then been working in libraries for 28 years, highlighted keeping up with new internet technologies as the biggest challenge she faced in her work.

Heard of “Web 2.0” or “Social Networking”?… want to find out more? After the excitement of being able to find [nearly] all the information you want on the internet, the next big thing to arrive on the internet scene was ‘Web 2.0’ technologies. In 2008 Coffs Harbour Library ran adult learning online demonstration sessions on: How to create a blog; Friends and Facebook; Librarything – put your private library online!; and the library’s own online member services.

In 2011 the Coffs Harbour City Library introduced free public wifi access across all branches where library members and visitors can bring their own laptops, tablets, and mobile devices which has been well received by the public, with 43,556 individual logins and over 42,000 hours of connectivity provided in the 2013/14 financial year. Clear evidence that the library is well aboard the information super-highway and using a vast array of online resources to support the community’s information needs.

Keeping up with the ever expanding and evolving technologies, in order to enhance library services and support the public in their information and connectivity needs however, still remains a challenge – what an exciting place to work!

Written by Skye Ravenscroft

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2 responses to “Public Internet Access”

  1. Andrew says:

    I need to access newspaper and other information from late 1990’s coffs harbour.
    Can you assist with direct links to say newspapers and magazine?

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