Magazine article American Libraries

Getting Connected at a Local Level to Benefit the Community: In Successful Public Library Internet Projects, the Common Element Is Training

Magazine article American Libraries

Getting Connected at a Local Level to Benefit the Community: In Successful Public Library Internet Projects, the Common Element Is Training

Article excerpt


During the first cycle of the MCI LibraryLINK project, grant monies have been used to purchase software and hardware and hire consultants; librarians have been encouraged to design communication technology projects at the local level that will benefit their communities. The goal of the three-year, $750,000 partnership between the MCI Foundation and the American Library Association is to use communication technology to enhance the link between the local library, the community it serves, and the vast resources of the information infrastructure.

Of the eight projects funded in 1995 with $20,000 each through this MCI national technology initiative and partnership with the ALA (AL, May 1995, p.462-464+), three in particular illustrate the variety of telecommunications services that libraries developed and their innovative approaches to Internet connectivity.

What is this Net thing?

Artist and patron Irving Gumb at the Arlington County (Va.) Public Library (ACPL) wanted to find out how art galleries around the country are putting their collections on the Web. He also heard that the Whitney Museum in New York City had just mounted a "virtual exhibit" that featured artists and their works; none may have been included in any printed catalog.

Gumb visited the library to try out the Internet and find answers on how to get his work displayed. He said, "If I didn't have this Web access, I would have had to visit each gallery or write letters to obtain this information. In some cases I might not be able to get the information at all if it were only available on the Web." With help from library staffer and Internet volunteer Chris Milton, he received a 30-minute personalized tutoring session, answers to his questions, and left with a very positive impression of the library's investment in technology. Project directors Sally Dewey and Andrea McGlinchey will tell you it took some doing to get there.

ACPL wanted to provide Internet access to patrons at two public computers and access for staff in the work area. Despite the small scale of the project, it was revolutionary. The County Computer Center, which usually handled all the library's technology needs, could not provide technical support. The library had nothing to build on, no local network, no compatible OPAC system, nothing they could tie into.

Will build to suit

Because of county purchasing procedures, Dewey and McGlinchey scoured the area for information and prices on phone lines and high-speed connectivity, online providers, hardware, Web browsers, security hardware, trainers, and Web page developers. The exhaustive process of learning, shopping, evaluating, selecting, and setting up lasted six months. Once equipment was purchased and thoroughly tested and staff trained, Internet access was available in August 1995.

They decided to offer patrons access using PPP connectivity and Chameleon, a suite of Internet tools that includes a Web browser. Since it is a dial-up connection only, they had to limit what they could provide to patrons, so they do not offer e-mail accounts, only WWW, telnet, and gopher. They also tried to form alliances, but could not find an appropriate partner. The Virginia State Library Network couldn't provide them a home. They approached the local elementary school, but couldn't match with its Mac-based network. They tried several universities, but most were already overextended and under-configured.

Dewey and McGlinchey knew that they could not start as experts. They sought out volunteer consultants initially and then contracted for technical support during the grant period to get up and running. "One of our greatest successes is this partnership with our providers. The library recognized the value of this public/private deal and it will continue and expand," said Dewey. They contracted with Capcon Library Network, who could accommodate their choice of four separate stations and phone-line connections. …

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