The ContextIn southern New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, the Camden County Library has begun an innovative program aimed at using networked information technology to enhance the educational resources of the community. In Camden County, the public library manages the county’s community network, CamNet. The approach to networking differs somewhat from initiatives in other communities in that it is centered squarely on education. The library has forged partnerships with schools and business to build and maintain a system that links the county schools directly to the library, the Internet, and networked information resources. As a result, CamNet has enhanced the educational structure and content in schools throughout the county, and the network has placed the county public library in a new role of leadership in the community.
The Camden County Library System serves a primary clientele of 227,000 people in 26 member communities. The residents of these communities pay a dedicated library tax and in 1994 their support for the library was $16.76 per capita. Residents in 13 of these member communities also have access to small independent libraries located near their homes, which the county library helps to support. The library serves the whole county by providing reference, job information, and literacy programs to an additional 11 nonmember communities that have their own municipal libraries. In addition, Camden County Library serves as a backup reference service to some 400 libraries in southern New Jersey.
Library services are provided at a main library in Voorhees and three branches. A fourth branch library is scheduled to open in 1997. The library’s collections include some 370,000 items. In 1995, library staff loaned 964,123 items and answered 89,083 reference questions. The library is an autonomous county agency governed by a Library Commission, whose members are appointed by the elected Board of Chosen Freeholders, the county’s governing body.
Camden County has a growing population (estimated at 507,734 in 1992), and covers an area of 222 square miles. Library staff describe the county’s population pattern as an interesting mix of rural and urban, with a lot of suburban in between. The 26 communities that form the primary clientele of the Camden County Library are predominantly working class and suburban, and include neither the wealthiest communities in the county, nor the poorest community. But the library’s 1994-98 strategic plan shows that there is a great deal of variation among these 26 communities. In the plan, the library has analyzed the demographics of the communities served by each of the four library-facilities. This information enables each library branch to tailor its collections and services to the particular needs of its users.