NETWORKING FOR ALL VICTORIANS: THE WAY AHEAD

A VICLINK Seminar, Tuesday, 3 September 1996

The Country Perspective:

To start with, I thought I would provide some background information. Just to put you all in the picture again, the Glenelg Regional Library is located in Southwest Victoria, with 4 branch libraries at Hamilton, Portland, Heywood and Casterton, and a Mobile Library. We are a small regional library serving a population of 40,000 people.

How did we get going with I.T.?
Well, we started working towards the super highway in 1994, when we formulated an information technology plan, and presented it to the former councils and regional library committee where it was enthusiastically endorsed.

We received funding from the Southern Grampians and Glenelg Councils, and through a L.I.C.A.D. Grant from Arts Victoria in 1995.

Since then, we¹ve slowly inched our way forward, and at this particular moment in time, we have:

… Access One Points of Presence in Headquarters (Hamilton) and in the Portland branch. (4 free dial up accounts)

… 2 public access Internet work stations at both the Portland and Hamilton branches

… 1 public access workstation for the Email Pilot Project in Hamilton

… 1 staff Internet workstation in Headquarters

… Joined I.T.I and are providing Internet training sessions at Hamilton (3 staff members are accredited I.T.I. Trainers)

… Purchased a server computer, located at Headquarters.

… Created a specialist position for an Information Systems Coordinator (Wendy Heale), and in doing so, have completed a major staff restructure.

… Have a partially constructed Home Page on the Web.

… LANIS equipment at both Hamilton and Portland to enable networking of IP accounts

By the end of 1996, we will have:

… A public access Internet work station at Heywood, with dial up access to the Portland POP, which is a local phone call away, for 2 hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays

… A public access Internet work station at Casterton, with dial up access to the Portland P.O.P. for 2 hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday mornings.

… At least 1 staff member in each branch trained as Internet trainers through I.T.I.

… Our Community Information Database mounted on the server and searchable via the Internet

… Have onsold space on the server to local businesses and institutions

… Additional training courses available to the public in Advanced Internet Searching, Email, and some subject specific courses e.g. genealogy.

… A home page with links to several useful sites

By the end of 1997, our goals are to:

… Provide additional workstations at all branches utilising Lanis equipment

… Network the following branches with ISDN lines:

Hamilton - Portland
Casterton - Hamilton
Heywood - Portland

… Provide Internet access to 4 major mobile library sites

… Provide Internet training and related courses at all branches

… Have the library catalogue and a bulletin board accessible via the Internet

… Provide public email accounts (as a value added service) at all branch libraries

… Have all branch library staff accredited as Internet trainers

… Have local tourist and council information installed on the server for access by the Internet.

… And probably several other services that we haven¹t even thought of yet!

Of course, we have yet to receive any funding for all of this. However, we will be aggressively pursuing every avenue for funding that we can possibly think of. Some the strategies in mind include:

Sponsorship
… Fund raising by ³Friends² groups
… Donations from Service clubs
… Submissions to various State and Federal government departments
… Further funding by Councils

In retrospect, there are a number of things that we would have probably approached differently, and a number of things that we can heartily recommend. From a management point of view, there are a number of things that we can advise:

No. 1 Formulate an I.T. Plan in consultation with your staff.

Then work out some strategies and action plans.
It is imperative that all staff are enthusiastic and are embracing the new technology with optimism. This is one of the most important things, as we found out quite early on. Otherwise, there can be all kinds of barriers at every turn. It is important that they can see the opportunities available, and don¹t view it as an additional and unnecessary workload.

Some of the ways that this can be helped along are:

… Staff training, of course. But sometimes you can lead a horse to water, but you can¹t make it drink.

… Send your staff out to visit other libraries, and invite speakers in to talk and demonstrate at your locations. There are plenty of people out there who would be willing to assist. Make sure they are enthusiastic, and know what they are talking about.

… Adopt an enthusiastic and positive attitude yourself. It¹s difficult to get your staff interested when you are only half hearted.

No. 2 Create or convert another position into an I.T. Position.

It¹s fairly important to have a member of staff clearly defined as the I.T. Person. We found that we needed a full time member of staff working on just I.T., and in a recent restructure, created the position of Information Systems Coordinator. When the position is not clearly defined, there can be confusion among staff about responsibilities and roles which can lead to resentment and low morale.

Of course, in country Victoria, it is extremely difficult to find the right person for such a position. (Even if you can afford it!) Encouraging some of your staff with an aptitude for this type of work to do computing courses rather than library studies is a good starting point.

For country public libraries, we would advise including an item in your submission for CSF Funding for technical support, e.g. the cost of having a person come on site and set up your workstations and connections.

No.3 Purchase equipment locally

Even if there are savings to be made by bulk purchase elsewhere, I would still recommend purchasing the equipment locally for three reasons:

… Political reasons. You will find that the local computer distributor will support and promote your plans, and will direct other clients to the library. This is also a good policy for keeping your council and library board on side.

… Support when things go wrong, and they invariably will, no matter how good the equipment. Locals can be there on site in minutes. You do not have to pack it up (usually) and send it to Melbourne for three weeks.

… Assistance and ideas. By building a good rapport with a local dealer, we have found that they do not hesitate to provide technical assistance and advice on other matters e.g. installing sound cards, and software which you may have purchased elsewhere.

… It is also a good idea not to purchase the most basic and cheapest model. You pay for it later on in terms of speed and downtime. We would recommend purchasing a Pentium 120 as a minimum.

No. 4 Telecommunications

Unlike metropolitan areas, regional country library branches are usually in different STD zones. A phone call between Headquarters and nearly every branch is at STD rates. This makes networking a very expensive option.

This is a real problem in country Victoria, and I¹m afraid I don¹t have the answer. In 1995, an estimate cost for networking our branches was: $31284 rental per annum, and installation cost of: $1188. This does not include the cost of terminal adapters, routers, racks, etc. This was to provide a total of 216 km of ISDN 64k lines. We are still waiting for Telstra to provide an up to date quotation. (We have been chasing them for over three months now.) We have been told that it has been referred to one of their consultants in Geelong, and we are waiting to meet with them.

The availability of ISDN and the cost are the obvious issues. How does a library service already running on a shoestring budget afford these kinds of costs? Serious consideration of these issues should be given in the allocation of the CSF funding.

No. 4 Staff Training

It is important that staff are trained in basic computing skills, (particularly file management, printing, downloading, etc.), basic searching skills, familiarity with the browsers, and a rudimentary understanding of how the connection works and the equipment involved, prior to providing public access in your branches. It is poor public relations to have staff unable to assist and demonstrate the Internet to library clients. As there are some sophisticated users amongst the public, it is important that library staff remain one step ahead. Training on its own is not enough either. Practice is imperative!

We reorganised priorities in order to get staff using and practicing on the Net. For example, staff were encouraged to spend 30 mins each morning on it in lieu of reshelving and shelf reading. We rostered staff for usage, and we also encouraged them to come in during their own time to use it. In fact after this we had to put the brakes on a couple of staff who were coming in at 5am to use it.

No. 5 Policies

It¹s important to get policies established and in writing. Some of the things implemented at the Glenelg Regional library include:

… Free usage of the Internet by bookings, limited to one hour per booking as a maximum. Two bookings per week are allowed, but more may be negotiated with the library desk staff.

… Downloading to the hard disk is not permitted. Users must purchase a disk ($2.00 each) from the circulation desk. Printouts also attract a charge.

… Users under the age of 18 must have a disclaimer form signed by a parent or guardian.

… We have banned Internet Relay Chat Line access. Some users have been offended by some of the messages and the graphics.

… Obscene material is also not permitted, nor is crashing of programs or accessing unauthorised information or services.

These are just a few of the things that can be included. There are many policies available for viewing on the Net, although they are usually American in origin.

No. 6. Staff Time

To begin with, staff will be required to assist nearly every user. However as people get used to it and attend training sessions and acquire skills, the call on staff time does diminish.

As in our branches, we only have a maximum of two people rostered on to work in a branch at one time, (sometimes only one). We have therefore implemented a policy whereby staff are available to assist first time users for the first ten minutes of their time. Thereafter, they are on their own, or it is at a cost.

No. 7 Marketing and promotion

Not only will you have to sell the positive qualities of the Internet to your own staff, be prepared to work on your Councillors, Advisory Committees, Board Members, etc., etc. Many people, particularly in the country, have a negative view of it from the media.

Invitations to demonstrations, and a constant barrage of positive reports to the local media will help. Taking it to Council and Board Meetings for demonstration is also a good idea.

No. 8 Positioning of the Internet Workstations

Exactly where do you position the workstation in your branches?
Near the Circulation Desk and in public view or away from the desk with privacy for users?

Ideally, I think you need both.

We have a small area away from the desk with room for several workstations in Hamilton. It is difficult to supervise and takes staff well out of public view in the library when they are assisting users. But it does lend itself to privacy for users and is ideal for training purposes.

We would like to place a workstation near the Circulation Desk for reference work and for beginner users who may need help.

Another thing to consider is the setup. Do you want to have one dedicated phone line per branch plus a LANIS network, or several dedicated phone lines? A LANIS (Local Area Network Internet Server) costs about $3000, but can provide up to eight workstations.

In conclusion, I would like to offer the following comments:

We have found that the Internet has extended our reference collection, and will be considered in formulating collection development policies.

We now have a different clientele using the library, including business people, particularly those involved in tourism, and teenagers.

A last piece of advice;
Prepare to take risks and make mistakes. We are exploring new territory, and working through new issues in ensuring that we provide the best services for our communities.

Adele Kenneally
Chief Executive Officer
adelek@h140.aone.net.au