Over the past four weeks, the City of Sydney Council has been trialling the provision of free Wi-Fi services in its libraries. With only a fortnight to go before the hotspots are switched off, a spokesperson has said that users won't have long to wait before access becomes a permanent fixture.
The council initiated the trials at five of its eight suburban branches in the City of Sydney area, including local libraries in Glebe, Newtown, Haymarket, Ultimo and the CBD branch at Circular Quay.
"It was one of the first things I wanted to do when I took on this role at the council," said Kiersten Fishburn, culture and libraries manager for the City of Sydney Council.
"We'd had a huge amount of customer requests and I'd heard of it being active inside bigger libraries around the country -- such as the State Library of Victoria -- but what most excited me about this was getting it to the local branches where it can be used in a more social setting," she said.
Council representatives, including Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, have been surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response from staff and users the initiative has received so far. The Lord Mayor's comments come after plans for a free wireless network across Sydney's CBD stalled late last year.
"We've had an extraordinary pick-up, the numbers of users are doubling each week across all of the branches, and that's spread entirely by word of mouth," said Fishburn.
The Council's libraries manager added that the decision was made before the trial not to promote it heavily, as officials wanted to gauge the response of the public ahead of a permanent rollout.
While the initiative has no specified target demographic, Fishburn said that it had begun to attract users which libraries had wanted to return to the fold for quite some time, particularly young men.
"They are one of our key groups, and the signs are there that it's getting them to return to libraries, and hopefully becoming more comfortable being around books again," she said.
According to Fishburn, Council staff are "99 percent sure" that a permanent rollout will follow the trial after a full evaluation is completed, adding that the service will also be offered across all eight of the council's local libraries. The libraries manager said she was particularly excited that the service would soon be offered in Waterloo -- a highly disadvantaged area of central Sydney.
"I'm thrilled that it's going to be rolled out to Waterloo," she said. "You tend not to get much for free living there."