The Colorado Public Library Annual Report asks libraries to report:
…the total number of uses of wireless access in the library during the last year. A typical week or other reliable estimate may be used to determine the annual number. Note: Count each use of wireless access regardless of the amount of time spent online. Do not include wireless use of library equipment in this count.
Accurately counting Wifi usage is a daunting task; the diversity of IT resources within libraries makes it impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all-solution. That’s the bad news. The good news is that regardless of the size of your library (or its IT budget), there are several strategies that will allow you to accurately and easily report this data.
Data from your WIFI hardware’s log will be the most accurate source for counting usage. Make sure to set your hardware to log for a minimum of 12-24 hours. It is important to plan ahead, as it is likely that your WIFI router or firewall won’t be able to log a full year’s worth of activity, which means you’ll have to use data from a typical day or week.
Most public Wifi services require that users authenticate after connecting. Usually this means submitting a username, password, ID, or the like. Other times it is as simple as presenting users with a “splash” or portal page, and requiring them to agree to “Terms of Service” or “Acceptable Use” policies. Either way, if your library requires users to authenticate then it is likely that you can log or track that activity using a web analytics solution such as Google Analytics. In order to get the most accurate count, make sure you only include data from successful logins.
If you don’t have access to your Wifi hardware and/or network logs, don’t worry, you can still report usage! Every device that connects to your Wifi network broadcasts a unique identifier called a MAC address. Because MAC addresses are a) unique and b) visible to everyone on the network, you can use them to count the number of devices using your Wifi service at any given point in time.
Using network scanning software to count usage will be less accurate because you will be limited to periodically logging into your Wifi router(s) and manually scanning and counting each device. Use a free network scanner like SoftPerfect Network Scanner to make the job easier!
Excluding Library Wifi Devices
Don’t forget to exclude your library’s Wifi devices from the count! The easiest way to ensure that you only count user devices to setup separate public and private connections, then make sure to connect library devices to the latter.
Plan ahead! As previously mentioned, regardless of the type of technique you use, you will probably be limited to using data from a typical day, week, or month in order to calculate your annual usage. When estimating your annual usage, be sure to account for holidays and other closures.
Best Practices for Library Statistics, Library of Michigan
This document has further suggestions for configuring your network hardware’s logs.
Google Analytics monitors and tracks web traffic on your website. It is useful for tracking activity on your library’s Wifi portal/login page.
SoftPerfect Network Scanner
SoftPerfect Network Scanner gives you the ability to quickly and easily scan your network and, using MAC addresses, count the number of connected devices.