A Different Type of Distance Education

By Morgan, Eric Lease | Computers in Libraries, February 1999 | Go to article overview

A Different Type of Distance Education


Morgan, Eric Lease, Computers in Libraries


Eric Lease Morgan works in the Department for Digital Library Initiatives of the North Carolina State University Libraries in Raleigh. His e-mail address is eric_morgan@ncsu.edu and his home page is at http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/staff/morgan.

By transporting computers and the necessary networking hardware to remote sites, two library systems (the St. Louis County Library and the South Central Regional Library Council) are able to better serve the training needs of their staffs. This column describes these similar, yet different, approaches to

training librarians.

The Cybermobile of St. Louis County Library

The St. Louis (Missouri) County Library uses a transformed bookmobile (or "cybermobile") to transport computers to remote sites to train its librarians on the use of their new, soon-to-be-installed integrated library system.

The St. Louis County Library maintains 19 branches and 19 bookmobiles, providing library service to a community of 524 square miles. Recently the library decided on a new integrated library system from Innovative Interfaces, Inc. that is supposed to go live in May of this year. In order to train the library's staff of more than 700, an "innovative" solution had to be implemented to allow the employees to become proficient in their new work environment.

The library's specific problem was how to effectively train a staff that's spread over such a large area. They focused on the idea of a classroom on wheels, since they felt it would give the staff in the branches a more convenient way to learn: This solution would provide opportunities close to home, yet away from the busy front desk. Given that the library has a fleet of bookmobiles and one was being retired, they negotiated with the head of their bookmobile services for one of the newer units. After a series of brainstorming sessions, library administration (Dan Wilson, Margaret Stefanak, and Kathie Lamb) and public services staff decided to convert "Pinocchio," a bookmobile designed to serve elementary school children, into "Millennium," a mobile electronic classroom.

As the library's shop personnel gutted the bookmobile, removing the old linoleum flooring as well as the checkout desk and wooden bookcases, discussion began in earnest with the head of technical training on the layout of the bookmobile's interior. They walked through the bookmobile, trying to visualize what would work best in a small space. Shop personnel made two very critical suggestions, leading to good lighting and workstation design. The lighting is mounted around the walls of the unit, with the three switches controlled from a central location by the instructor. This allows the lights to be dimmed when the LCD projector is in use and provides a non-glare environment for the trainees. The desk design is a modified saw-tooth. It staggers the students on one side of the cybermobile, leaving an aisle for the instructor to walk through and monitor the students' progress. The setup sounds like a very effective use of space to me.

Millennium was outfitted with a local area network consisting of seven workstations connected by Category 5, lOBaseT cable. The network is directly connected to the Internet by sharing a data circuit (T-1) provided at each of its 18 host locations. In order to conserve on counter space and to provide a flexible training environment, the library chose laptops instead of PCs for the training workstations. Each workstation provides access to system automation functions and the Internet as well as to a series of commonly used applications such as word processors and spreadsheet programs. The instructor's workstation is attached to an LCD projector used to display applications to a pull-down screen. The LCD projector has a zoom function to allow for maximum projection in a limited space.

As of this writing, the mobile training center is scheduled to be taken out on the road the first week in December of 1998 and will be in operation until further notice.

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