If you’re able to read this using a DSL or cable internet connection, consider yourself lucky. Many Americans still don’t have access to high speed lines and are still relying on dial up. For communities tired of waiting for the local cable or phone companies to provide service there’s another alternative. This information is particularly useful for rural libraries who may be required to provide high speed access.
In the Appalachian area of Ohio, Bob Dixon and Alan Escovitz from Ohio State University are pioneers. They refer to their project as “rural datafication”, a play off of the effort to bring electricity to remote areas during the New Deal referred to as “rural electrification”. They are bringing broadband Internet connectivity to rural communities such as Chesterhill using satellite technology. Funding from the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC) enabled them to purchase the hardware, Dixon and Escovitz volunteered their time to train a local technician and they worked together to install it. The satellite dish, only three feet wide, is located behind the library connected to an antenna on the roof. It sends a signal to another antenna on top of the water tower. This broadcasts a wireless signal for several miles providing access to those with a special antenna. This has enabled businesses to flourish and the community to stay connected and participate in distance education programs.
While I was talking to Amanda Taylor, Head Librarian of Concordia Parish, Louisiana, she mentioned a clever way of using keychain drives for her PAC network.
Librarian in Black mentions Robin Hastings’ pointer to Craythur.com, an apparent web-based OS. There are others, such as eyeOS. As Robin says “I can see this being REALLY helpful for the library’s non-computer owning patrons. Right now, everything that the OS promises to do (calendaring functions, notes, etc.) is available on widely scattered services around the ‘net. This would let them continue to use those services, but keep them all in one place. I can’t see — as it is right now — most computer owning folks finding it really useful, but I can see the patrons at public libraries snapping up the opportunity to have all their online tools in one, easy interface.”
Keeping up with the material and technical demands of your Public Access Computing stations can be difficult, particularly for “accidental techie” librarians and those on a tight budget. In our interviews, we’ve found a number of ways librarians have used to handle this – an interesting variation being contracting for machines, software and support in one bundled package which is meant to ease all of their problems.
The 2006 Public Library and the Internet Survey http://www.ii.fsu.edu/plinternet_reports.cfm, explores the impacts and benefits that communities derive from public library connectivity. One of the most significant findings is the vital role that public libraries serve in providing access to government services such as Medicare Part D, and federal insurance following disasters such as Hurrican Katrina.
Reduced funding for technical assistance is a reality for many libraries, even as increased demands are placed on them. Even small branches are being faced with greater demands to care for their own infrastructure. Still, nobody can be expected to become an expert overnight, so what can be done to help libraries learn to help themselves?
One system in the Texas panhandle has devised an innovative plan for walking their branches through this process.
I recently spoke to a librarian in Oklahoma whose technical support comes almost entirely from a community volunteer. Other libraries I have spoken to rely on high school interns to provide technical training and support.
She said, "We have a former board member who has been with our library since we started in our technology process. He volunteers and donates his time to do any of our technology projects. He’s wired our building and things like that…we have wonderful donated tech support. He has saved us so much money…I’ve really been blessed with our wonderful board. And we have a great little Friends of the Library group that may be able to get us some more computers."
During the Technology Training in a 2.0 World session, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Porter of OCLC, Brenda Hough of Northeast Kansas Library System, and Dale Musselman of WebJunction. Brenda was one of the first folks I contacted after joining MaintainIT and she's been extremely helpful in offering information about what's needed to help libraries maintain a good level of service in public computing
Brenda stated that technical training needs to focus more on broad concepts to prepare staff to meet a variety of challenges rather than specific technology-based skills. Here are Brenda's tips for technology training that works:
I'm just back from Monterey, and the Internet Librarian conference, where we kicked off our "Share Your PAC Story" campaign. Steering Committee members Adam Wright, Helene Blowers and I met for lunch and had an energetic discussion about the project.
I was delighted that the conference had a track devoted to Public Libraries' Futures.
Helene gave a terrific presentation during the session on the Public Library 2.0: Emerging Technologies & Changing Roles describing the Learning 2.0 program for staff development at the Charlotte & Mecklenburg County library. Structured like a "summer reading program for our staff," the program encourages all staff members to play with social computing tools through a series of self-paced activities. Staff who complete all the lessons get an MP3 player. For more info on this terrific program, see Learning 2.0