The Cleveland Public Library tries to make technology just another ordinary thing within library operations. The aim is to behave like a library in a networked environment. Members of the management team have a common vision of the library’s relationship to new technology. They see their role as organizing good information: traditional roles applied to new media. The library has tried to build networked resources within the budget (rather than through grant support), creating resources and services that they consider to be part of ongoing library service, as opposed to programs that come and go with external funding.

According to the director, what is different in an electronic environment is that the Cleveland Public Library is a stronger support for smaller libraries, special libraries, and CLEVNET libraries. Academic libraries, too, depend on the electronic resources of the Cleveland Public Library. Librarians at local universities have been known to use their Cleveland Public Library cards to dial in to the library’s network for their own patrons’ needs.

The Cleveland Public Library became involved in technology early when it mounted the library catalog on a Data Research Associates (DRA) system in 1979. By 1988, dial-in access to the catalog was available from eight ports, and, in 1989, the library offered public access to the Information Access Company’s (IAC) General Periodicals Index database.

Library staff members like to note that in 1990, the Cleveland Public Library was the first public library in the nation to connect patrons to information resources via the Internet, an accomplishment that a few other libraries in the country also have claimed. But whether or not Cleveland was actually the first, it was among the very earliest public libraries to provide public access to Internet resources. The connection was made possible through a grant to academic libraries in northeast Ohio from the Pew Charitable Trust. The Cleveland Public Library’s portion of the grant provided a $25,000 benefit: router software and a dedicated phone line to an Internet node. For the public, this meant that the Cleveland Public Library was available by telnet, and that the Cleveland online system could make other libraries’ catalogs available, as well as a weather service and other resources.

In 1992, the library began to offer unlimited public access to OCLC’s FirstSearch databases and to the full text of journals indexed in IAC’s General Periodicals Index at library terminals in all CLEVNET libraries and by dial-in. The library provides free public access to these databases through licensing agreements that restrict use to registered library borrowers. In 1993, the library expanded online resources to a gopher-based Cleveland Public Electronic Library with menu selections for selected gopher-based resources available via the Internet. Since then, the library set up a World Wide Web server, mounted Library of Congress bibliographic and authority files locally for cataloging, and offered access to the union list of serials in 60 Cleveland area libraries and to the Cleveland News Index.

Since 1995, the Cleveland Public Electronic Library has provided access to hundreds of specialized and general databases across a wide range of subjects on its web site ( After the library reorganized the web site and the resources it points to by topic, the use of individual databases doubled. The volume of use of the electronic library as a whole is about 12 million searches per year and is increasing by about 25 percent per year. Use is expected to increase rapidly when all branches are on the World Wide Web. This electronic library has evolved into a highly crafted service built on DRA web software. Users see one common interface to the library catalog, licensed database resources, and selected resources on the Internet. Unlike many other libraries offering networked access to periodical indexes and articles on CD-ROM, the Cleveland Public Library contracts for online access to these databases over the Internet at a cost of approximately $200,000 in 1996 (the library’s share of $350,000 for database contracts with the 24 CLEVNET libraries). This access enables Cleveland to offer its electronic resources through one service, a single consolidated delivery system.

Planning is an important element in the administration of the library, although formal planning efforts have become less important than setting sights on specific goals and getting the job done. The library had a five-year plan for automation from 1987-92, but since that time, no new plan has been created because technology is changing so fast. Automation planning now takes place at weekly staff meetings, although such efforts may receive less introspective consideration and scrutiny than they might in a purposely wrought strategic plan. The library has long gathered statistics online to facilitate decision making about electronic resources. For example, library usage statistics for each file on the menu of the electronic library are recorded. This type of information has been used by the library to determine on a file-by-file basis whether the library will subscribe or pay per use.

CLEVNET evolved from the moment when Steven Wood, director of the independent suburban Cleveland Heights/University Heights Public Library, asked to join the Cleveland Public Library contract with DRA to form an online union catalog. CLEVNET began formally in 1987 with a group of 16 libraries, and within three years these CLEVNET libraries were also using the Cleveland Public Library online catalog to gain access to Internet resources. CLEVNET libraries together are responsible for an online union catalog of more than two million records.

CLEVNET is not a cooperative but a service that the Cleveland Public Library makes available on a full cost recovery basis to 23 libraries across seven counties in northeast Ohio. The prices make automation affordable for the large and small libraries within this alliance. As an example, Carterette estimates that among the CLEVNET libraries some 40 automation staff members would be required if each maintained its own online services. The Cleveland Public Library maintains the Cleveland Public Electronic Library and makes it available to CLEVNET subscribers using a lean automation staff of 12.5 full-time equivalents. This larger base of libraries (24 including the Cleveland Public Library) enables patrons immediate access to collections in CLEVNET libraries and provides the capital to make a full range of information available. With the participation of the CLEVNET libraries, the Cleveland Public Electronic Library has become a more attractive venue for local information providers as well as for commercial database vendors who need a laboratory to try something new.

In surrounding independent libraries, such as those in the community of Cleveland Heights, CLEVNET is seen as a worthwhile service that is, in part, helping to increase traditional uses of the library, circulation, and special services. Wood says that CLEVNET provides services that his library could not afford on its own. For example, in 1995, Cleveland Public Library paid the Internet provider OARNET approximately $15,000 per year for a T1 connection from the main library to the Internet, which cost each CLEVNET library $220 per month when shared across the CLEVNET system. More and more, says Wood, “We are using technology to enhance our public services and to provide community information and resources.” Getting their hands on the hardware they need is a major difficulty, Wood concedes, but he expects that they will obtain the equipment that they need.

In 1994, the state of Ohio sought to enable other public libraries to offer electronic services like those that the Cleveland Public Library supplies. As a result, Ohio has taken an aggressive stand to make telecommunications affordable for public libraries. State legislation established the Ohio Public Libraries Information Network (OPLIN) as a two-year funding initiative ($12.8 million from 1995 to 1997) that will provide a connection to the Internet for each public library in the state. Each library building will receive a World Wide Web-equipped work station and fees paid for a connection to an Internet node for the 1995-97 biennium. This will enable each CLEVNET library to connect to the Cleveland Public Library and the Internet by T1 line and will bring 64KB digital leased lines (replacing voice-grade Centrex lines) and the World Wide Web environment to each of the Cleveland Public Library branches.

Preservation is also a priority at the Cleveland Public Library. The library is one of the few public libraries in the country to operate a fully equipped conservation laboratory and a full-fledged preservation program. A new library initiative will digitize materials that are in poor condition or that for other reasons are in need of preservation. The use of digitization will be a cooperative effort between the preservation and information systems departments. Portions of the library’s extensive photographic collection also are being digitized, as is a catalog supplement to a recent exhibition of antique chess boards and pieces. Although some of these digitization efforts are directed toward making information available to the greatest number of people, there is also a preservation element in their intent and purpose.

Technical Infrastructure

The library maintains an Ethernet wide area network supporting users at the Cleveland Public Library, at CLEVNET member institutions, and at home or work sites. As the network hub, the library’s VAX Cluster of DEC 8400 Alpha computers, with the help of five Unix or Windows NT servers, support 185 workstations and 314 terminals within the Cleveland Public Library at 30 sites. They also support 650 additional workstations and terminals in 9 CLEVNET library systems (which comprise 61 additional locations in nine counties in Northern Ohio.) Branches connect to the library via the wide area network over 64KB digital leased telephone lines. The library and each of the CLEVNET libraries connect to the Internet–and to each other–by a leased T1 line. The cost of connecting each CLEVNET library system to Cleveland Public Library is currently paid for by the Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN).

Within the Cleveland Public Library, 60 workstations and more than 100 terminals are available for general use in public service areas. All have access to Internet-based information resources. A project is under way to replace all of the dumb terminals with workstations. Most of the workstations are Pentium-class PCs offering full graphical capabilities. Large local area networks are maintained in the main library, the remote technical services facility, and the administrative area. Smaller LANs are being developed in every branch location and each of the CLEVNET libraries. The library offers access to reference sources on CD-ROM at 28 stand-alone workstations and 11 networked workstations in the main library. One of the networked workstations is in the Children’s Literature Department. The stand-alone workstations will be connected to the network over the next few months. The library is investigating a method for offering access to CD-ROM resources in branch facilities from a centralized repository.

The central database for the union catalog is mounted on a DRA system. The electronic text of journals is acquired online directly from IAC and EBSCO. Self-initiated document delivery options are also available through FirstSearch. Forty-seven modems enable other institutions and members of the public to dial in to the Cleveland Public Electronic Library, which includes the shared catalog of the Cleveland Public Library and the CLEVNET libraries. Sixteen remote users may use the electronic library at one time through telnet, and the Library’s World Wide Web server offers unlimited access. The library spends 11.8 percent of its collection development budget on materials in electronic form (leased, licensed, or purchased).