Tuesday, September 18, 2007

All the technology you can get your hands on or libraries are out of room for more computers

It's nice to see that my library isn't the only one out of space and in need to expand bandwidth. A recent report by the American Library Association, Libraries Connect Communities, examines this issue.

This has been reported by the Associated Press "Despite Demand, Libraries Won't Add PCs" and by bloggers. Here are the major themes:

  • Technology is bringing more – not less – public library use
  • Library infrastructure (space, bandwidth and staffing) is being pushed to capacity
  • Libraries need more technology planning and dedicated technology support

Reports like these two years ago addressed out of date computers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation remedied that situation. However, with all these new computers, bandwidth is squeezed. Furthermore, libraries must find ways to sustain and support this level of service.

I was in the same boat two years ago. I had 11 old gates pc's that were installed in 2001. These computers were five years old by the time they were replaced. MySpace crashed the computers every time. We also had to manually sign up users on a clipboard.

In 2006, I was able to combine a $14,000 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant, with a $30,000 Capital Improvement Project provided by the city. Later that same year I was able to get an additional grant from the Tohono O'odham nation for $11,000. For $55,000, I was able to replace 11 old pcs with 38 brand new dells with half a gigabite of memory. I could even write further grants for more computers had I the space. To even create the space, I had to weed our paperback collection by half and move it onto the main floor.

Luckily, I have a host of solutions to deal with this issue. My community passed a bond in 2006 for a new library and a renovation/expansion of the existing library. When completed, the library will provide access to an additional 130 computers. A total of 166 computers for a community of 38,000 people. All these projects will be completed between 2009 and 2010. The community is growing, but computer growth should outstrip population growth unless we have over 100,000 people in three years.

What about the short term? My library has the problem of bandwidth. From the time we open to the time we close, we peak out our internet bandwidth. This is with 1.5mbps. High for 1999, but painfully slow today. If you read the July 2007 report "Speed Matters" by the Communication Workers of America. The United States average internet speed was 1.9mbps. By contrast, Japan has 61 mbps and even South Korea is at 45mbps. So it's not just libraries that are lagging, it is the entire nation. My community is trying to expand access from 1.5 to 6, a huge increase. However, I can still fantasize about 60mbps (you can download a movie in 2 minutes).

What else are we doing in the short term? We are expanding access with laptops. We don't have a laptop loan program, but we allow our teen group to use our ten laptops during their weekly four hour program. They are able to get online though our wireless internet access and collaborate. We also received a grant from the Arizona State Library Archives and Public Records for additional computers and help setting up a teen website. It has been a very successful program because we are able to expand computer access.

We also have a bookmobile. It not only carries books and materials to various locations, it also has a satellite dish to provide wireless internet access wherever it goes. My favorite experience with this was going to a youth center and setting up the laptops. The center coordinator said that they didn't have wireless internet, to which I replied, "That's OK, we brought it with us." Again, we can expand access wherever we go and provide ten access points.

We have a long term plan and a short term plan, but what about sustainability? When I came to my library, we had an expired master plan and technology plan. We had technology, but no way to sustain or improve it. I was able to create a strategic plan using PLA's Planning for Results. At the same time the city performed a master plan of our entire department. This helped establish planning goals for short and long term, however, neither of these plans addressed technology in depth. These plans did a wonderful job setting a plan for us for future services. However, the needs were so basic, that technology would be considered an advanced asset. At best, the plan addressed the need to have a technology plan, replace technology after three years, establish wireless internet and create a computer access point for every 2000 citizens. We had to find our own way completely separate of this process.

There are tools to develop a technology plan. Webjunction and Techatlas are both excellent tools. Techatlas provides a way to inventory technology as well as provide a survey for library services to determine a path for great service. It provides a survey for staff to assess their training level. It provides a questionnaire on all aspects of library technology services. The survey helps establish a level of service based on successful libraries and on successful e-rate plans. Using the survey results, combining the library's strategic plan, and hiring a consultant (provided by a grant for the Arizona State Library Archives and Public Records), we were able to create a three year technology plan that was e-rate compliant. This will allow for staff training, replacement of technology, assure quality internet access, and expansion for future technology needs.

Next we addressed technology support issues. The idea of a Service Level agreement was one I received from Andrew Pace who referred to this service level agreement, http://lits.library.usyd.edu.au/services/public/pa-sla.html in March 2006. I was able to use this document as an example for our consultant. Furthermore, I could use it for city IT to demonstrate what we were trying to do. Here are the major themes:

1. Address the views of library users on their Information Technology needs;

2. Maintain an appropriate level of patron IT services to meet those needs;

3. Employ a monitoring process to address changing and evolving users’ needs;

4. Deliver appropriate staff focused IT support services to sustain user services;

You can view the full document here

We also wrapped these objectives with our three year technology plan. Some of the most useful, but very basic pieces of this plan were:

1. Ensure staff were sufficiently trained in technology
2. Ensure sustainability of technology (example, purchase four "imaged" public access computers that can be replaced when one goes down, allowing time for IT to repair but not losing service levels.)
3. Understand what the library can and cannot do. (There must be a point to which the library can refer to the patron's technology equipment manufacturer such as for wireless internet.)

We broke down the library's technology plan into six month pieces. See the document here. See the full three year technology plan here.

I am in a situation where I have all the tools I need and I can focus on the biggest needs such as bandwidth. If I hadn't had these long term plans, I would have to look seriously at our collections to see if we could weed to provide increased computer space. The next few months will involve training library staff so that they can handle the increased technology questions and issues. After that, we plan to perform a full Learning 2.0 program. It takes a lot of work to get to that point, but the most important thing is to begin the process. It is exciting to be able to provide these services and by planning, I am ready for 90% of what is asked of our library.

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