January 14, 2003:

Following an emerging national trend, the Cullman County Public Library System has instituted high-speed radio frequency wireless access to the Internet at its downtown Cullman branch. Library users with the proper equipment on their laptop computers and PDAs can access high speed Internet while sitting anywhere inside or around the Central Library Building.

"Radio Free Cullman" was turned on today for visitors to the Central Library and areas surrounding the building.

The Central Library is only the second public library and the third library of any type in the state to offer this service, only behind the Orange Beach Public Library and Auburn University Library, according to the "Wired Librarian" website. According to the website and data from the Public Library Association, it is the 74th public library in the country to do so, out of roughly 8,981.

"We're proud to once again lead the state and the country. When we do, we provide the very best in service to our communities and our users." Said John Paul Myrick, County Librarian. With a badly cramped building and a limited number of computer terminals, this will allow more people to access high speed service quickly."

In addition to surfing the Internet, users can utilize the connections to search the library's catalog, and databases provided by the Alabama Virtual Library and the library. Another way this service might be used is by a traveling businessperson needing Internet access, but also needing to compare data between the Internet and that stored on his computer. Such interfacing is currently not possible with the library's computer systems. Persons in the Cullman area with slow dial up connections at home can come to the library to complete downloads which require large bandwidth.

"The Internet has removed the walls from libraries." Myrick said, "This addition helps us to remove some of the walls inside our own library. In a way it removes the doors too as more and more persons, both local residents and visitors, can get the information they need quickly."

Persons wishing to tie their laptops or PDAs into the service at the library will have to have a certain type of laptop or other device that conforms to standard 802.11b, commonly known as Wi-Fi. Most new laptops and PDAs come wireless capable already. Older laptops with a PCMCIA slot or USB port can be adapted with an external network interface card (NIC) for about $80 or less.

Auburn has had their service in place for a few years and Orange Beach only brought their "Hotspot" service online three months ago. According to Bonny Lee Gray, Director of the Orange Beach Library, their service is proving extremely popular with their users.

The technology to provide such services has become affordable to the library in recent months and was covered within the appropriation to the library provided by the City of Cullman.

"The City of Cullman is pleased to be a part of bringing this state-of-the-art system to the Cullman Library". said Mayor Don Green, "To be one of the first seventy-four libraries nationwide to have this service is especially an honor. This demonstrates the continuing desire of the Public Library system and the City of Cullman to provide a quality educational experience to all our citizens."

Gray, former Cullman resident Jeffrey Dean, who is a Senior Database Consultant with Vanderbilt University, and local computer technician Greg Williams consulted with the library staff on its needs and how to provide the service cheaply and effectively. Library Technology Coordinator Ken Walling installed the necessary equipment.

CCPLS officials hope to install the technology at the Fairview branch by the end of the year. Other CCPLS branches will be added as high-speed Internet access is available in their communities and as funding allows.