In the near future, a new wing of the central library building will open, offering increased capabilities to respond to technological change. The library is looking to take on the role of digital publisher by converting materials to make them accessible, most likely public domain local history material. In cooperation with the library’s preservation laboratory, a staff committee will determine selection criteria for materials to be both preserved on acid-free paper and digitized for access. The library would also like to mount (or point to) more local civic information on the network; for example, candidate information supplied by the League of Women Voters, property tax and sales records from the county auditor’s office, and comparative information about hospitals supplied by the Cleveland Health Quality Choice not-for-profit group. The library’s philosophy is to keep track of electronic information of interest to the community rather than to generate it. Staff members like to find discrete groups that have information, then offer advice and consultation about access, and mount or point to the information from the network to make the information more accessible.
Given its strong local financial support, the Cleveland Public Library has been able to steer an independent course. Nevertheless, the library administration has formed alliances of two types in developing the Cleveland Public Electronic Library. One is the contractual relationship with the CLEVNET libraries. The second is a form of ad hoc partnership with information systems and database vendors in the testing and development of new products and services. With both types of alliances, the whole has become greater than the sum of its parts and has enabled the library to try new things and develop the Cleveland Public Electronic Library more quickly. The choice of partners has enabled the library to push forward with technology a few steps ahead of other libraries. In the future, the library will have to make strategic decisions about whether to partner and with whom.
The library administration hopes also to assess the effectiveness of its networked electronic resources by accumulating use records that will provide a better understanding of what the library has been doing in the community and how much the system is relied on by a wide range of users. Counting the number of hits on the library’s home page does not provide enough information. They want to know who is using the services and how often they are used. This type of information will help the library continue to fine tune the high quality of library services that the community has become accustomed to receiving. It will be most effective if it is used in conjunction with community information needs assessment, and within branch service areas as well as across the metropolitan region. “Creativity is easy when you have the right tools,” says Mason.
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.