Work Wednesday: Libraries, Wi-Fi, and Obesity

I just wanted to point out an interesting article over on Librarian By Day discussing another good reasons why libraries should consider obtaining and promoting wireless internet in their buildings.

One of the consequences of the digital divide has been people coming into their local libraries to use the computers there — either to get on the library’s wireless network with their laptop, smartphone, or tablet, or to use a desktop computer. For those of us in library-land, this is pretty common knowledge. Plenty of people don’t have internet at home, and plenty of people don’t have broadband internet at home, which is necessary if you’re interested in listening to Pandora or watching YouTube.

However, libraries can’t be open all the time, and cuts in library funding frequently lead to cuts in library hours. Where else can customers without home internet or home broadband go to get online? Well, as it turns out, plenty of fast-food restaurants provide “free” wireless.

Consider two of the largest restaurant chains to have wi-fi in their locations: McDonald’s and Starbucks. McDonald’s has 12,000 wi-fi locations in the U.S., and Starbucks has 7,000. According to the Wall Street Journal article cited by Librarian By Day, this is more than the 15,000 wireless-equipped public libraries located in the U.S.

What this means is the primary source for off-hours internet access for those on the wrong side of the digital divide is the same place that often sells less-than-healthy food to its customers. There is obviously no direct way to link obesity in children and adults to the (relatively new) phenomenon of fast-food places offering patrons internet, but I think we can agree there is less temptation to over-indulge in fatty and sugary foods in most public libraries than there is at McDonald’s and Starbucks.

It’s something to think about the next time discussions come up about cutting library hours, closing library buildings, or otherwise diminishing library resources dedicated to accessing the internet. There are plenty of corporations out there willing to provide the same service, but where public libraries do so because we believe that everyone should have access to the internet, these companies are doing so because it helps their bottom line. And what helps their bottom line isn’t always best for the health of Americans.

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