Using the technology of networked information, the Camden County Library today is positioning itself within its community as “the gateway to the world.” This same networked information technology enables individuals and organizations across the county, not just those who come to the library, to use this gateway to information worldwide. Looking to the future, library director Claudia Sumler says, “Technology is the way libraries will stay vital.”
CamNet A Wide Area Network connecting the public library directly with schools in Camden County, CamNet is the centerpiece of the library’s use of technology. CamNet is an alliance of 71 institutions that have banded together to provide low-cost access to databases to both schools and libraries in the county. Through CamNet, users in member institutions have access to journal indexing and texts in EBSCO’s online database, to the county library’s online catalog, and to the Internet. Using the CamNet high-speed connection to the Internet, members then are able to arrange for their own electronic mail services, connect to information resources on the Internet, and mount World Wide Web homepages on the CamNet server.
CamNet had its beginnings in the county Board of Education, which established a technology committee in 1993 to explore ways of offering greater resources and using technology for educational purposes. But it was Deborah Dennis, former supervisor of Automation Services at the Camden County Library, who in January 1994 suggested to this group the notion of linking public libraries and schools together to create an affordable means to share library catalogs and databases. She knew that spreading the cost of an online catalog system, a high-speed Internet connection, and license fees for electronic publications across many institutions would enable the Camden County Library to build the kind of electronic information network the community needed. The idea was enthusiastically received and the technology committee brought the network into being. Seventy-one school facilities public and private, one college, and four public libraries are now connected to the network. Integral to the network is a partnership with Garden State Cable TV, which designed and implemented the wide area network that connects the schools to the library and to each other.
Although CamNet’s origins were in the Board of Education, it has assumed a comfortable home in the public library, where the creation of partnerships with the local schools had been articulated as a strategic objective before CamNet’s conception. As a customer-driven information service institution, the library makes a natural home for CamNet. Says a vice principal from one of the county’s elementary schools: “The library is the logical place for all of this to happen.” Camden County Library serves the network in a leadership role: it is a neutral player among many schools, it maintains the network, and its computer is the network hub. Library staff train CamNet member staff and provide network technical support. CamNet member schools pay the Camden County Library an annual fee for administrative costs and database charges, and costs for cable connections are paid directly to Garden State Cable.