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DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Zak Podmore uses the free Wi-Fi at the Durango Public Library to work on his website while the library was closed. Library Director Andy White says the service is popular, and many residents don’t even bother coming into the building. Tourists parked in their campers are also a frequent sight in the library’s parking lot.

By Jim Haug
Herald Staff Writer

Zak Podmore’s disappointment that the Durango Public Library was closed Sunday evaporated with the epiphany that he could still access the Internet from the building’s Wi-Fi.

He plugged in his laptop to an exterior outlet and planned a summer rafting trip down the Colorado River.

“I realized I could do it right here,” said Podmore, who was sitting outside the library on a ledge.

On another Sunday, Aaron Van Sickle sat on the same shaded ledge by the front door and sent emails to his brother in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

“This is a great free resource,” said Van Sickle, 23, a landscaper. “I had a few hours, and I needed to get some Internetting done. I’m selling some stuff on Craigslist too.”

Andy White, director of Durango Public Library, said, “Wi-Fi makes a library more versatile and able to accommodate more computer users. There are people who choose not to come into the building at all.”

Tourists, for example, often seek out the library for the free Internet.

“They will pull up in their camper, use the Wi-Fi and then go down the road,” White said. In the summer, the height of the tourist season, the library averages between 36 and 63 Wi-Fi users on Sundays when the building is closed.

But the library is not the only place to procure free Wi-Fi access.

Cathy Metz, director of parks and recreation for the city of Durango, said, “We have seen an increase in people using computers around the (Durango Community) Recreation Center, primarily in our seating areas, and it has not caused any problems from our perspective.”

Fort Lewis College is blanketed with a Wi-Fi that emanates from the buildings, but users not affiliated with the college have to register to use the service.

“This deters someone from abusing the system,” said Matt McClamery, the college’s director of information technology.

The library’s Wi-Fi users are not asked to register. The library averages between 1,700 to 1,900 Wi-Fi users a month, said Deb Denious, systems analyst for the library.

Those are in addition to the patrons who use the library’s 35 hard-wired Internet terminals. Last year, patrons accumulated 110,000 hours of Internet sessions on the terminals.

With Wi-Fi, the library does not have strict limits on how much a single user can download, but there is a threshold if too many users are on at the same time, particularly if users are downloading large files or playing video games, Denious said.

When the bandwidth threshold is reached, new users might not be able to connect to the Wi-Fi until somebody else disconnects, Denious said.

The library can accommodate a maximum of 50 Wi-Fi users at any one time, which is limiting because the library gets about a 1,000 visitors a day.

Many patrons come in with smartphones, which are often programmed to seek out free sources of Wi-Fi. If patrons get an error message telling them they’re offline, they come to the desk.

“We’ll say, ‘keep trying,’” White said.

It’s an unanticipated problem because no one realized the impact of the smartphone when the library opened in December 2008, White said.

Hotels can accommodate only so many customers’ smartphones at a time, too, said White, noting many patrons like to watch streaming movies on their smartphones.

In the fast evolution of technology, some library patrons think paper books are passé. The library has 40 electronic readers because “some people only want to read from a Nook,” White said.

To save on manpower, the library has gone to an automated system for filing newly returned books and other checked-out materials. Books are sorted by a conveyor belt that looks like a newspaper press.

One common glitch, however, is that the system often cannot read the code on a returned book if it has become too faded. So it must go through the manual filing system.

The library seems to confront a new technical issue every day, White said. He could have never anticipated the changes he has seen in his career, he said.

“When I went to library school in 1985, I never knew.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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