I'm not entirely sure what a "library of the future" might look like, but I'm certain it would have readily available wireless Internet access. Actually that idea isn't very futuristic at all - many libraries now offer free Wi-Fi service to patrons, such as the Edmonton Public Library (EPL).
Launched in early February, the EPL's wireless Internet service is available at almost every library branch in the city (Lessard and the temporary Idylwylde location being the only two exceptions). In its first five months of operation, the service has seen nearly 7500 sessions with an average of 450 sessions per week in June. Via email I was able to find out some additional details about the service from Lachlan Bickley, Acting Director of EPL's eServices.
Like the Next Gen wireless service, the EPL's wireless runs atop existing infrastructure. Wireless network traffic runs over an IPSec/GRE tunnel and eventually makes its way onto the Alberta SuperNet. The service is currently limited to 250 users per branch, and each user is restricted to 500 KB/s of throughput. Web content itself is not filtered, but only the HTTP, HTTPS, and FTP protocols are allowed. The EPL chose Aruba Networks to provide the equipment for the service. They are capable of supporting 256 access points in total, or 128 redundant access points. The EPL is currently using 52 and expect to add an additional 30 over the next few weeks. They constantly monitor the network and will make adjustments wherever necessary to ensure reliable access.
Initial costs included the purchase of hardware and software, as well as installation. Ongoing costs are minimal aside from annual support agreements with Aruba because the network needs to be up and running to support internal administration anyway. Again, this is very similar to the cost structure of Next Gen's Wireless Edmonton.
Lachlan told me that the EPL wanted to enable customers to access library services using their own wireless devices for convenience, and to reduce demand for wired public workstations. I suspect another reason for launching the wireless service was to keep up-to-date with other libraries around the world.
If you have a library card, you can sign on for an unlimited connection time. Otherwise you need to request "guest access" by speaking with staff at a service desk, who will set you up with 3 hours of connection time. I've tried the service a few times at the Stanley A. Milner library downtown using a library card, and I found it fast and reliable. The connection worked quite well in the Second Cup on the corner too.
Kudos to the Edmonton Public Library for offering this service. I look forward to seeing how it evolves.