Completion of Technology Center is just the next step in local library
John Paul Myrick, MLS, County Librarian
That’s the term employees use to describe the mood of users flocking
to the new Community Technology Center (CTC) at the Cullman Public Library,
the flagship of your County’s six-unit library system. From
the quiet, one would never know that people are excited. However, usage
has steadily increased since computers and new furnishings were added
over the summer.
I recently asked some library employees what they thought of the new
Center. “If you build it, they will come,” said one employee. Another
joked: “We never get to say ‘Shhhh’ anymore. The
computers keeps them (the patrons) too busy.”
The Cullman County Public Library System (CCPLS) installed 16 new computers,
a new server, network printer and furnishings to create the center in
the ancient Cullman library’s vacated Special Collections Room
as part of a $35,000 federal grant project. Other computers were replaced
elsewhere in the building as space allowed. The Alabama Public
Library Service, the state’s library development agency, awarded
Grant funds in the fall of 2005 for the second phase of a two-year initiative,
and the County Commission and local municipalities provided matching
funds to make these projects possible.
These new computers were designed with the needs of our users in mind. They
are faster. As such, people get in and out of the library faster,
and often, quieter. People in our community (as evidenced by over
100,000 visitors last year) know we’re the place to go to quickly
meet information needs, and computers help meet those needs.
The completion of the Community Technology Center at the Cullman library
signals the end of the Library Board’s two-year plan to upgrade
all technology and fully automated all of the county’s libraries. Over
$50,000 in federal funds were obtained through grants and utilized to
replace computers, printers and servers in all of the county’s
public libraries, as well as create a county-wide “union catalog” with
live data, showing exactly what books are on the shelves in area libraries
as well as checked out. Library users can now check their own accounts
and reserve materials from home or work. Over 50,000 e-books and downloadable
audio materials are available online without having to come into a library
facility. Staff can electronically borrow items between libraries
for users, saving time and money. Information about library patrons
is now shared among libraries countywide, eliminating abuse of library
privileges, and cutting down on the theft of costly library materials.
We know you think that’s neat. So do we.
The projects also added, then expanded “Radio Free Cullman County”,
the library’s Wi-Fi wireless high-speed Internet access, available
to persons with laptops and PDAs.
Wi-Fi access allows people to access information faster, and at times
when the library is closed. It also serves as a signal to visitors
that we have progressive communities which are concerned not only about
the quality of life, but positive economic development.
City Middle School students, recently provided with laptops as part of
the Superintendent’s dynamic 1 to 1 Computer Initiative, regularly
use the Wi-Fi service at the Main Library, completing school assignments
and, quietly, playing games. (It was nice to be ahead of the game
and be ready for the needs of students instead of reacting after-the-fact.) Businessmen
also use the service to stay in communication with their corporate offices. Parents
use high-speed email to communicate with their sons and daughters at
war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, yes, people use the service after
the library is closed to have high-speed service to download data and
audio. It’s not uncommon to drive by late at night and see
a car parked outside the closed library with a strange blue glow (coming
from a laptop) emanating from the vehicle.
We’re keeping people downtown after 5 PM, albeit quietly.
The Wi-Fi expansion and the completion of these projects are the latest
steps the library has taken to retain our title as Alabama’s leader
in library technology. In 1994, your public library system was
among the first in the state to provide informational resources via CD-ROM. In
1996, CCPLS was among the first five Alabama libraries to provide a web
page, providing information about the library and community and informational
resources. In 1997, CCPLS became the first public library system
in the state to offer public computers and Internet access in all of
its facilities; and in 2004, Cullman County was the second public library
and third library of any kind in the state to provide Wi-Fi, which is
available 24/7 at the Cullman, Hanceville and Fairview libraries.
All of those efforts haven’t been without recognition. Seeing
the library’s effective use of technology, the Bill and Melinda
Gates Library Foundation awarded CCPLS one of the first grants for technology
in the country in 1998. The Alabama Department of Economic and
Community Affairs awarded its first technology enrichment grant given
to a public library to Cullman County that same year. The most
recent (2004 & 2005) grants further recognized our excellence and
allowed the library system to replace the last of the Gates computers
and further grow.
So what’s next for computers in Cullman County’s libraries? There
is a chance that Bill Gates will be providing additional funding soon
for support and to replace equipment in Alabama libraries. We’re
ahead on that game too. CCPLS will use that funding, if realized,
to further expand our offerings countywide as limited space allows, provide
training for library staff, and restart basic computing classes for the
community, which were once held and which were very popular. We
will be installing our first E-Branch kiosk library at the County Courthouse
this fall. And we also hope to help the City of Cullman and/or
other municipalities in providing Wi-LAN service, providing wireless
Internet access to entire communities, helping to further narrow the
gap between the information “haves” and the information “have-nots”. Whatever
the next step is in providing the best in library and information technology,
your library will be ready to take it.
And, whatever it is, we guarantee we wont have to “Shhhh” you