Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Impacts of Public Access to the Internet through Pennsylvania Public Libraries

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Impacts of Public Access to the Internet through Pennsylvania Public Libraries

Article excerpt

This article provides an evaluation of the OnLine at PA Libraries project which was initiated in the fall of 1996 and completed in the fall of 1997. The project, funded by Bell Atlantic and administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Commonwealth Libraries and the Schuylkill Intermediate Unit, has had a significant and important impact on the provision of Internet-based information services and resources to the residents of Pennsylvania. The project has provided a statewide demonstration of what can be done to quickly and significantly improve public library services statewide, to connect public libraries to the Internet and provide a range of new services and resources to their communities; and to "jumpstart" libraries, librarians, and citizens into the global networked society.


In fall 1995 the President and CEO of Bell Atlantic spoke to Pennsylvania's First Lady, Michele Ridge, about his interest in helping libraries. Ms. Ridge is a professional librarian who directed a Pennsylvania library system before her husband was elected governor. On April 17, 1996, Bell Atlantic presented her with a $750,000 check at a ceremony at the East Shore Branch Library of the Dauphin County Library System. The funding would promote the establishment and development of public access Internet workstations in largely rural libraries throughout Pennsylvania.

The Office of Commonwealth Libraries managed the project and contracted with the Schuylkill Intermediate Unit (SIU) to implement the grant, provide technical consultation and assistance, handle equipment orders, and coordinate training with State Library staff. The Director of Library Development from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries handled implementation of the project at the State Library. The SIU hired an individual to provide technical coordination of the project while the SIU manager continued to provide professional technical consultation.

Public libraries had to apply for participation in the project and had to agree to:

* Place the equipment (comprised of a computer workstation with software and a printer) in an accessible public service area, on furniture supplied by the participating library, and make the workstation available for the public to use when the library was open.

* Install one phone line for the workstation.

* Participate in the project for at least two years after the grant year and pay certain start-up and continuing costs (the grant application had an estimation of these costs. Local costs included phone line installation, telephone bill for local line, Internet provider fee, software/hardware maintenance, and training/technical support after the grant year).

* Have at least one public service staff member attend all required training sessions.

* Agree to participate in public awareness activities.

One hundred eighty-eight libraries applied and all were accepted into the project. Participating libraries were notified in July 1996. Due to lower than expected telecommunications costs (almost all libraries found Internet service providers within their local calling areas), the State Library was able to add fifty-five more local libraries to the project in August 1997. Most of those new libraries began providing service to the public by September 1997. Data reported in this paper do not include these fifty-five libraries.

The SIU ordered the equipment in August 1996, the vendor configured it in August and September 1996, and it was shipped to participating libraries in October and early November. Basic training was held in October 1996. Libraries began offering the service as early as November 1996 with the last libraries coming online in February 1997. A committee of reference librarians, district library center (DLC) consultant librarians, SIU staff, and Office of Commonwealth Libraries staff met in February and March to plan the advanced training, which was held in April and May 1997. …

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