Santa Fe Librarians Protest: Keep public library Wi-Fi free–Keep-public-library-Wi-Fi-free

Let us make one thing clear. Librarians opposed to Wi-Fi in public libraries are the strongest advocates of access to the Internet for all people, with connectivity that is faster and more secure than Wi-Fi can provide.

Librarians opposed to Wi-Fi offer alternatives that are viable, legitimate, and do-able, and demonstrate that we needn’t abdicate the long-held democratic values, policies and practices of our profession to provide access to the Internet … that some would too easily forsake for the fool’s gold of a wireless world.

A shining example of the alternative in action is the National Library of France, the equivalent of our Library of Congress. France National Library recently placed a moratorium on Wi-Fi and exchanged microwave radiation for wired connections. They based their decision on scientific/medical research demonstrating harm from electro-pollution.

The library consists of 15 million holdings located in four tower buildings, a staff of 2,500 employees and a budget of $254 million.

The unabashed push by the Santa Fe Public Library administration and board to install Wi-Fi in the Santa Fe Public Libraries runs counter to the long-held policies and practices of librarianship. Let us tell you what librarians ought to be doing.

It is our obligation as librarians to provide uncensored information to all people. These ideals, a) no censorship, and b) no barriers to access, are rooted in this profession. The American Library Association Bill of Rights and many other documents, policies and legislative efforts, enshrine these long-held ideals.

A responsible administration and board would investigate the issue fully and keep lines of communication open. They would collect materials on electro-pollution and electro-hypersensitivity to provide educational opportunities for the public.

Is it not improper, if not unethical, for our public library system to be handing out yes or no questionnaires concerning Wi-Fi without informing the public of the substantial scientific and medical literature which demonstrates harm? What duty is it of the public library to censor information and try to control public opinion? Is that not antithetical to its mission?

The profession of librarianship takes access to information for all people very seriously. As librarians, we have never erected barriers to access and make every attempt to dismantle them.

It is not acceptable to create barriers for people who are adversely affected by electromagnetic fields, including epileptics. Exposure can induce severe symptoms such as heart arrhythmias and seizures. Wi-Fi is a barrier for these people.

The Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy states: “Libraries must not discriminate against individuals with disabilities and shall ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to library resources.”

Under the facilities section, the policy states: “The Americans with Disabilities Acts requires that both architectural barriers in existing facilities and communication barriers that are structural in nature be removed …” This statement indicates that Wi-Fi should be banned.

How can the library administration and board disregard their own professional policies? Why is it acceptable to erect barriers to access for these people?

Back in the 1970s, librarians brought computers into libraries to ensure that the “have nots” have equal access to the information highway.

There is no comparison today with Wi-Fi in libraries. It does not narrow the digital divide or the socio-economic gap as if often claimed by Wi-Fi proponents. It simply perpetuates the inequities in society.

Providing a Wi-Fi signal does not magically produce a laptop computer. It only serves those who own a laptop. Why should those who can afford a laptop get a “free” signal while those who can’t are relegated to “sign up” for an hour of computer use? It is fallacious to claim that Wi-Fi will free up computers.

Laptop users won’t free up hard-wired computers because they don’t use public access terminals. They have the money to buy a computer(s), unlike those who can’t afford to buy one, so there is nothing to “free up.”

The question of whether or not to install Wi-Fi in public libraries should not be a matter of convenience, opinion, or trendy and short-sighted decision making, but based upon the long-held traditions and values that librarians uphold … for the good of all of us.

This statement, submitted by Diana Thatcher, expresses a consensus of six Santa Fe librarians from academic, public, state and special libraries opposed to Wi-Fi in the Santa Fe Public Library.

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