Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Bookmobile Online Circulation Via Cellular Telephone

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Bookmobile Online Circulation Via Cellular Telephone

Article excerpt

Bookmobile Online Circulation via Cellular Telephone

The Bloomington (Illinois) Public Library serves a community of 48,000 and three adjacent townships with a population of 7,500. The bookmobile has a bi-weekly schedule of thirty one-hour stops around the city and townships and an annual circulation of approximately 35,000 items.

LSCA Grant

Bloomington Public Library received an LSCA grant from the Illinois State Library to circulate items via cellular telephone in July 1988. Before using cellular telephone, BPL used the regiscope system to check out books. This system uses a picture of the book pocket, a numbered date due card, and the patron's library card. The main library uses the Utlas circulation system. The grant was written to make circulation on the bookmobile compatible with the main library. This would give bookmobile patrons access to the same information as patrons using the main library, including titles at the main library, reserve information, information on overdue charges, and so forth.

Cellular telephone was introduced to the Bloomington-Normal area during the fall of 1988. Two links were assigned to the Bloomington-Normal area, but because of problems the FCC had in assigning the two links, there was a delay in the introduction of the cellular phone service in the area. BPL made the decision to work with Tower Cellular.

Equipment for the project was ordered in December 1988. The vendor originally promised equipment delivery within two weeks of the order date; however, actual delivery was made at the end of February. Equipment for the project included an Epson Equity I+ microcomputer and monitor, a dot-matrix printer, one internal 2400-baud modem, and an external 2400-baud modem.

Configuration Testing

A representative of Tower Cellular thought the computer on the bookmobile could share an Utlas communications port with the microcomputer used for Utlas in the Extension Services department. This meant the two computers could not be used for Utlas at the same time. A modem was placed in the Extension Services micro and a switch placed near the port on the 8-port concentrator to switch the port from the bookmobile computer to the Extension Services computer. The port was to be shared, saving charges for two ports of approximately $115 per month. At that time, BPL only had an 8-port concentrator, and all of the ports were being used, so there was no port for exclusive use of the bookmobile. Tower Cellular tested this configuration, but the terminal emulation software did not work correctly, so it was abandoned.

In mid-March, a 16-port concentrator was purchased and installed in the circulation department in place of the 8-port concentrator. A 2400-baud modem was placed near the concentrator and hooked up to a dedicated phone line, providing the bookmobile with its own port. The microcomputer on the bookmobile was hooked to the port at the library via the cellular telephone, completing the connection to the Utlas mainframe computer at the Resource Sharing Alliance at Illinois Central College in East Peoria.


Cellular telephone equipment was installed on the bookmobile by Tower Cellular in late March. Extension Services staff built a padded wooden container for the computer to ensure its safety on bumpy rides. The container held the CPU, the monitor, the uninterruptible power supply, and a printer. The equipment was tested several times and the bookmobile went online in April 1989.

The bookmobile was online through the end of May, at which time the bookmobile returned to the regiscope system to circulate books during the summer reading program in June and July. This was done because the cellular telephone system was very slow and the summer is the busiest time on the bookmobile. The bookmobile went online again in August and continued online through the end of December 1989.


The first full month (May) the bookmobile was online, the system was used for one thousand minutes at the basic package rate of $125 for the first one thousand minutes plus an additional 1,211 minutes billed at 29 cents per minute, for a total of 2,211 minutes or 36. …

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