CLR Case Studies–Cedar Falls Public Library

The Future

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Practical realities could limit the library’s vision of providing an expanding variety of quality information resources to the public via traditional and electronic delivery. One is the current physical facility. The state of Iowa has recently constructed a statewide fiber optic network, the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), and Cedar Falls has been selected as one of the public libraries in the state where an ICN classroom will be established in 1999. It is hard to imagine where that will be located in the current building. A single networked workstation, used both by reference staff and patrons, will prove to be insufficient as information about the universe of electronic information expands and more people seek access. Training the public in the use of electronic technology, for which the library has assumed responsibility, can be difficult logistically. The library offered 21 workshops on the Internet over the spring break in 1996, which was too many, they found, for the restricted staff and space of the library. Others within the community, including CedarNet and commercial and educational providers, offer classes in using the Internet, and they provide an alternative means of delivery.

Fiscal realities–reflected in the library’s own mission statement, which is to provide resources within budget constraints–are another understandable limiting factor to the adaptation of technology in the library. One gets the sense that the library has learned to work within limitations over a long period to make the best use of what it has. In this respect, Iowa’s sense of community has a negative as well as a positive side. Because community identity is so strong, there are no formal county or regional library systems to help support Iowa’s “535 struggling public libraries.” According to a former library board member, Iowans are “pretty resistant to library systems.” The library director has been asked to direct the public library in the neighboring city of Waterloo in addition to her job in Cedar Falls, and if she accepts, she will find it an interesting, if risky, experiment to see if there is value in sharing certain resources between the two libraries. Although the metropolitan community leadership is behind this experiment, many community residents are very much against the idea of sharing their library director with another community–another manifestation of the close identity people have with Cedar Falls as their own community. But the willingness of the director to take this step illustrates part of the route Cedar Falls already has taken in its approach to technological innovation: be creative, put yourself on the line, develop supportive leadership, take advantage of opportunities, and take it one step at a time.

From the publication Public Libraries, Communities, and Technology: Twelve Case Studies, published by The Council on Library Resources, ©1996. For more information contact
The Council on Library Resources, 1400 16th Street NW,
Suite 715, Washington DC, 20036. Phone (202) 939-3370. Fax (202) 939-3499.