Late in 1996, the library will have networked all branches, via a wide area network, making available to all its patrons networked reference sources on CD-ROM, the library’s online catalog and circulation, open access to the Internet, the local Monticello Avenue network, and other state-wide library networked resources. Five branches and the central library will be linked by fiber optic cable at that point, and three branches have increased telephone budgets to cover dial-in costs until fiber optic cable reaches their facilities. The library will be the first in Virginia to network all branches, making similar services available to each of the five political jurisdictions served. Bringing equal access to all branches has been and continues to be a library priority.
The community-based information network, Monticello Avenue (referred to here also as the network), has been developed as a grassroots effort and was opened for public access via Internet or dial-in connection in November 1995. The concept of a network began at the University of Virginia. The university wanted to encourage community involvement and was further motivated to help the community find ways to access the Internet on its own (not via university systems). In 1994, at the suggestion of the university, a group of community leaders from Albemarle County, the City of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, Adelphia Cable, Sprint Centel, and the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library put together a grant proposal for National Technical Information Act (NTIA) funds to establish a community-based information network and the local telecommunications infrastructure that would make Internet access affordable to citizens and business alike. The sum of $250,000 in matching funds was raised from local private and public sources. When the Charlottesville community was not chosen for the NTIA grant, they decided to do it themselves.
An executive committee from the institutions named above began meeting regularly. The university moved a network server to the library and provided technical assistance. Adelphia Cable and Sprint Centel began laying fiber optic cable. The library was fortunate to have an equipment fund of $100,000 and used it to begin to address the costs of networking. Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville supplied additional funds to the library’s operating budget for network coordination before the network opened. Volunteers representing community organizations formed the Information Providers Advisory Council, which supplies content guidance. The library’s community network coordinator (employed by the library) is the public face of the network, managing the computer lab and coordinating the efforts of the information providers. In addition, the University of Virginia has supplied technical support to the library to maintain the network server and the networked information resources.
A well-thought-out plan seems to be commonly held in the minds of the many community members involved in the network development, although there are no written strategic planning documents for the library or Monticello Avenue. The network executive committee, the Information Providers Advisory Council, the library director, and the professor and students in instructional technology at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, who have provided technical guidance, articulated this shared vision of the direction of the network. The network would enable the people of the community to access the Internet and to develop a networked community resource any way they choose. The library director believes that during the preparation of the NTIA grant proposal, the agencies involved in Monticello Avenue developed the guiding principles that are now commonly understood and followed.
The following technical infrastructure makes all of these services possible. A central IBM RS-6000 computer is the hub for the library’s local area network, which serves 30 workstations and terminals. It is also the server for the Monticello Avenue community network. Fiber optic cable supplied by Sprint Communications connects the library to the Internet. The central library provides 12 modems to support dial-in access by seven branch libraries and numerous community organizations. The branch libraries use the dial-in access to maintain World Wide Web resources, send and receive e-mail, and research reference questions.
Within the central library, 17 computer work stations (six PCs and eleven Macs) and eight terminals are available for use by patrons in the public service areas. The library has 11 high-end workstations, which are PowerPCs. In addition, there are a total of five public workstations and 14 OPACs in the seven branch libraries. Of these public work stations, 13 offer Internet access with full graphical capabilities. Public Internet access in the branches is envisioned in the near future.
The library’s catalog is maintained online locally in a system from Inlex. The online catalog may be viewed in the main library, in the branches, and via dial-in access. Workstations and public terminals in all library branches will soon be able to access an online periodicals database maintained by Infotrac. Of the public Internet access workstations, two are available in the reference department and 11 are located in the computer laboratory.