What could a library do with a gigabit Internet connection?

Marijke Visser from the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy writes with this provocative question:

What could a library do with a gigabit broadband connection? What kinds of services could they do that they can’t without that big of a connection? Thinking way away from the typical services libraries offer now, what are some really big ideas that would need that much connectivity? These services could happen outside the library walls, in relationship to other community organizations and/or government agencies… How would a library hooked up to a gig benefit its community?



  1. MOOP classes, MMORPG tournaments, livestream lectures, movies and big events (Superbowl, inauguration, etc). This would turn the library into not just an information commons, as has been the trend for the last decade or so, but allow it to become a true community center.

  2. I’m just guessing, but a major university library could digitize its entire print collection (assuming it had the resources to do so) with room to spare, but, more importantly, create a backup of all publisher-hosted online journals, databases, and other resources. It could avoid the sort of problems that were created when, say, Haworth Press went out of business and was taken over by Taylor & Francis, causing some libraries to lose access to online materials they’d paid for. That is, of course, assuming the publishers in question agreed to let the library share its archive with patrons. Otherwise it would just take up space and not help anyone.

    I realize I’m thinking small, though, in terms of what such a connection could offer.

      1. But without the increased connection speed, it wouldn’t be particularly accessible unless you went to the library to view it.

      2. Thank you for pointing that out. I guess I was still very much in the box in my library thinking, but then I think one of the most important functions of libraries is to act as an archive.

        Libraries preserve what publishers throw away. That, and making what they’ve preserved accessible, should always be their main focus.

  3. If the library where I work had a gigabit broadband connection, the first and most significant thing we would do is sigh a HUGE sigh of relief that we no longer had to struggle with our insufficient bandwidth.

    I know this isn’t terribly imaginative or “big-thinking”, but it reflects current reality. We are an academic library and we want our students and professors to be able to rely on us for streaming video and audio — yet they cannot. Semester after semester we hear that they are struggling with interrupted streams and failed connections; semester after semester we entreat the university to expand our bandwidth; semester after semester they do increase it — and it’s still never enough.

    What’s that maxim about doubled memory/throughput every 18 months? Expectations are more than doubling every year, as home connections improve by leaps and bounds. Libraries need to be enabled (read: funded) to keep up.

  4. No what-if about it. You could ask the Jersey Library in St Helier, given that we have gigabit broadband available to anyone in our little island…

    …and I’d lay money on the answer being “oh we don’t need that, all our terminals have is Hotmail”

    1. Because they already do that?

      Seriously, low bandwidth is no impediment to the dedicated library masturbator… as the frequency with which the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is found on the floor of the Men’s room can attest.

  5. I will have to inquire at the local libraries.  In Chattanooga, TN, the local electric utility rolled out fiber to all the neighborhoods in the city limits, and offers residential and business access for speeds up to 1 gigabit (the lower packages are still 30mbs and higher).

  6. Ask again in a year, and make it “What did a library do with a gigabit Internet connection?”.  This is rolling out in Kansas City right now, thanks to Google Fiber.  And now they have announced Olathe, KS will follow suit.  Both have great library systems, and it will be interesting to see what develops.

    In this case, not only the libraries are getting it, but also a huge chunk of their users will as well.  I think plans are in the works to offer collections of public domain and educational videos to stream to the home, amongst other things.

  7. Provide realtime programming to librarians across the Maine.  Host local newspapers archives for searching Most Maine papers are weeklies serving distinct towns with local news and advertising not national or international news.  Video reference chat service for libraries that do not have professional reference service. 

  8. I don’t want to derail the discussion, but, while providing greater technology is a wonderful thing, let’s not forget the human factor. Reading the comments so far it sounds like there are quite a few libraries that already have such a connection.

    What they need in addition to that is an adequate number of well-trained staff that is capable of taking advantage of what a gigabit Internet connection can offer.

  9. This thought is inside-the-box, but it raises a question I’m curious about… I think first of simply providing (low-)high-speed internet to more people. People who could bring their laptops to the library. With used laptops for sale for $150 on Craigslist, but with cable internet still costing more than $25/mo for the slowest speeds (both where I live, of course), I would expect there to be a lot of people who can afford computers but not internet. But I may be making a mistake somewhere, because at my local library I see the library desktops often in full use yet few people with laptops taking advantage of the free wi-fi.

    1. People without internet bringing in their own devices is increasing. We will always have a need for the library-owned computers, but there are a lot of people using their phones and used laptops. As the 2-3 year old netbooks and chromebooks hit the used market I expect this to keep increasing.

  10. What about The-Library-as-ISP?   If a Library had enough backbone, could they operate as a tax-funded, open internet provider into people’s homes?

    1. Even setting up some sort of a mesh wireless network routed off their network for the local neighborhood would be a step in the right direction.

    2. Not it the ISPs have anything to say about it.  Just ask any of the cities that have tried to institute municipal Wi-Fi and have seen laws passed prohibiting it.  We can’t be competing with business, now can we?

      1. I wrote a reply here, but then it disappeared (just letting you know in case it shows up again). Anyway, I like the idea of library as ISP. But if the libraries were prohibited by law from providing free unlimited internet access to their municipalities, then maybe the residents could borrow access from the library following the model of borrowing ebooks – for a limited amount of time, maybe a few hours per week? Some residents would still subscribe independently, so it wouldn’t take away business from the ISP, it would just enable access for those who couldn’t afford it otherwise. 

  11. Libraries are great at curating stuff – there’s always displays of themes and books from a range of areas. There should be a curated YouTube/TED/BoingBoing/YadaYada playlist that plays all day. Science. Best movie trailers over the last 50 years. Or the Academy Award movie trailers. Interviews with Authors. “Prelinger unpacked”. Best of Vimeo. History. Art. Whatever. Basically, free curated video streams.

    1. Throw audio books in there. Maybe grouped in playlists like ‘Alice’s Picks of the Month’, ‘Newbery Award Winners’, ‘Undiscovered SciFi Faves’. That would be cool. Or apps to read the libraries collection Kindle style. Does that already exist? 

  12. Catalogue stuff.  Be part of a massive, fast distributed computing network.  Process fragments of parchment.  Whatever.  This’d be cool.

    1. I’ve always thought one of the biggest advantages of high resolution scanners is that rare, fragile materials can be made available to anyone with a computer and internet access. Preserving the originals is still going to be necessary, but now being able to view, say, the original manuscript of Beowulf doesn’t have to be limited to specialists.

      Thinking that way, though, it may be backward to ask what a library could do with a gigabit internet connection. Libraries need all the storage space they can get, and it’s their patrons who could use a fast, high-capacity connection.

  13. Research libraries could connect to remote supercomputing centers so researchers could perform complex calculations on big data. 

    Public libraries could provide data crunching/visualizing software. Citizens could understand more about their government (hello data.gov) and themselves (mainstream lifetracking). 

  14. I’m flummoxed by this question. I really don’t know what services a library could offer with a big pipe that I can’t currently get on my laptop at home right now. To me, it’s akin to asking what a supermarket could do with access to an elephant. Perhaps I’m not being imaginative enough.

  15. Provide non-filtered, anonymous, ultra-high speed access via wifi or ethernet to all users in the library, their own devices or library terminals allowing copy to sd card. Enable free high-resolution, high-bandwidth, multiple participant, multi-camera videoconferencing so libraries become centers for communications. Provide lots of cameras and screens (if you have a huge budget. which you don’t. but somehow your high school is buying everyone laptops, right? So maybe it needs the community to chip in.) Use this facility to create a multi-library supported series of educational programs where experts teach classes or run workshops over the Internet, perhaps with book authors, university professors, scientists, artists, businesspeople etc. being the experts. Can also become community round table. Consider making a group of sister libraries to support each other in these endeavors so each library has reduced stress on staff while maintaining personal relationships. Host large digital archives available for free copying via sdcard, dvd or ethernet/wifi to your device. Provide open courseware to all ages so sharp, enthusiastic kids can explore all kinds of subjects with helpful guidance from librarians who I wish had helped me when I was a kid so frustrated I could not find where is this Internet I read about.. and my parents instead of helping me get into a subject thought they were funny getting me some opaque graduate texts on astrophysics and biochemistry. There is a lot of info on the net but still not clear how to for example learn about math or science as wikipedia often becomes very technical. So perhaps librarians or schools could help build open curricula for different subjects with guides that librarians could use to help kids get extra help in an area or read about advanced topics, etc.

  16. Stream ongoing research as it happens – video from research in space, amazon rainforests, etc. Host and stream interviews/lectures from eminent personalities and practitioners in science and arts (anything to compete with entertainment industry and its dumbing down effect on the viewers :). 

    Receive and process data from a local grid of connected appliances or sensors; for example, study traffic patterns by getting anonymous GPS info from cars.

    Connect multiple projectors and a Kinect type system to show a life size projection of places on earth including tourist spots, remote and ecologically fragile locations so people can experience them in immersive 3D if possible, and thereby reduce our travel footprint.

    Stream political and legal events needing an urgent resolution as they occur to the library, neighborhood and city so that citizens can discuss, vote and form a consensus/decision that can be relayed back so it can be acted upon.

  17. If libraries had gigabit connections, instead of central archives like the internet archive, we could create a mesh archive of the worlds knowledge stored automatically in arrays in each library preventing a single loss point.

    I also think libraries should be changin, from books storage to places for people to get together and learn, research and collaborate.  Ive always wondred why people work a starbucks when libraries are designed to provide what you need.  

  18. Allow users to “borrow” software in the form of old-school PC timeshares. Want to use Photoshop? Checkout the right virtual machine and access it via the web.

  19. Apart from indexes and metadata, libraries don’t create content. I doubt the lack of gigabit Internet connections in libraries is preventing them from doing something they want to do. The risk of litigation for sharing content they didn’t create would.

  20. The amsterdam Library offers 400 free seats with internet and 400 wifi connections for members. http://static2.parool.nl/static/photo/2013/2/7/1/20130328093815/media_xl_1584526.jpg

  21. I think large screens connecting two or more libraries during and after story time for small children, so that they can interact with kids through the screen, and be part of a shared audience of something wonderful.

  22. Without constraining yourself to the “library experience” play with the thought of a community information hub only out there for the public benefit having a gig (or make it so the size of the pipe is not a limiting factor). What is missing in our communities today (tomorrow) that such an entity could provide? 

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