Magazine article Computers in Libraries

On the Road Again: Presenting the Cybermobile to the World

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

On the Road Again: Presenting the Cybermobile to the World

Article excerpt

[Editor's Note: After we published these authors' ideas for a Cybermobile 3 years ago (January 1997), many people got interested in the "futuristic" idea of a totally wired bookmobile. Now the Cybermobile is a reality, and we are proud to have played a small part in that. Here's an update on what's happened since our last article.]

We knew that the Cybermobile should strike a responsive cord with librarians throughout the world who were struggling with equality of information access issues. We also knew that this concept would allow libraries to stretch scarce resources. However, we had no idea how successful it would be. Since our last update in the November/December 1998 issue of Computers in Libraries (page 18) and our presentations at the 1998 ALA Annual Conference and the 1998 Indiana State Library Convention, there has been growing international interest. John Drumm, assistant director of the Muncie (Indiana) Public Library, presented our Cybermobile concept at the April 1999 Australian Mobile Millennium Conference, and recently Dr. Frank Groom, professor at Ball State University, discussed the topic at the August International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

Speaking at the 1999 IFLA Conference

The 1999 IFLA Round Table on Mobile Libraries highlighted the diversity of mobile library approaches to serving different populations, from the Cybermobile on one hand to Kenya's "Camelmobile" and Thailand's innovative use of railroad cars on the other. Groom presented his and Drumm's Cybermobile approach of partnering with a variety of technology and business entities to bring satellite-based Internet access and a mobile computer training facility to the community. This technological approach could be especially appropriate for countries with sufficient roadways, but without significant national telecommunications facilities.

Any approach to mobile library services must take into account local conditions. One example of an imaginative approach to overcoming the problems of time and distance from traditional library resources is the Camelmobile. Dr. S. K. Ng'ang'a described his attempt to bring literacy, education, and books to the nomadic population of northern Kenya on the backs of a set of roving camels. This area of Kenya has no roads or telecommunications infrastructure to deliver "traditional" mobile library services. Another example of librarians' abilities to adapt traditional services to local conditions was offered by Manatana Charoenpaid of Thailand. She presented her country's approach of using converted railroad cars for small libraries in remote communities. The lack of available books has resulted in the majority of the distributed library material being magazines and newspapers.

The 1999 Australian Mobile Libraries Conference

Early in 1999, Adele Kenneally, chairperson of the Country Public Libraries of Victoria, Australia, invited us to speak at the Mobile Millennium, Mobile Library Conference at Swan Hill in Victoria, Australia. The Country Public Libraries Group of Victoria, Inc. sponsored the conference. Kenneally had seen the Muncie Public Library unit on display at the Great American Bookmobile Conference in August 1998 at Columbus, Ohio. She thought the concept would be interesting to mobile librarians in Australia, so she invited us to be among the keynote speakers. Dr. Bob Smith from Ohio also presented current U.S. innovations in the design of bookmobiles.

Some examples of the problems that librarians around the world face in delivering information to their constituents may be seen in the challenges faced by mobile librarians in Australia. Australia is the size of our own 48 contiguous states. Of the total population of 18 million, 87 percent lives within about 25 kilometers of the coastline. The remaining inland population is limited in the ways it can access library materials. …

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