CLR Case Studies–Jefferson-Madison Regional Library


Preparing an older building for networking has required significant effort and expense. Wiring, equipment installation, and building preparation took significantly longer than expected, causing frustration, and using time and resources in ways that could not have been predicted. On the other hand, according to Selle, the library staff has taken well to the physical changes and to the introduction of Internet services, unlike the transition from a card catalog to the online catalog, which was more difficult. With the transition to an online catalog, the staff had to give up something–the card catalog. With Internet access and a computer lab, they have gained something, and have taken to the Internet “like ducks to water.”

People from all parts of the Monticello Avenue project acknowledged that you need people with strong communication and interpersonal skills to coordinate the network content; preparation of Web pages; and training of staff, volunteers, and the public; and to provide for community participation. The network coordinator also has to be community oriented. Community leaders acknowledged that hiring a community network coordinator with these skills was key to moving the network forward. Choosing the wrong person for the job can stall a project.

Shumaker felt strongly that, in the long term, a single network coordinator is not enough. More reasonable, he believes, is the Charlotte’s Web (Charlotte, NC) model with three principal network employees: a director, a coordinator of volunteers, and a technical person. Even if it were possible to find one person who had all of the necessary skills, there isn’t time to do all three jobs and also learn from what other communities are doing. He noted a new inter-network professional organization that sounded useful, but admitted that the demands of his job had left him with little time to read materials from the organization’s listserv, much less participate fully.

The library board and Albemarle County administration have been concerned about minors accessing objectionable content on the Internet. The library director recommended, and after much discussion the board adopted, the American Library Association’s “Access to Electronic Information Services Networks: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights,” which advocates equal and equitable access to information for all, including minors. Understanding that public libraries, unlike school libraries, depend on parents to guide their children’s Internet use was important to the board’s decision. A disclaimer on the library’s Web site summarizes the library position and refers patrons to the “Child Safety on the Internet” Web site for further information. On a practical level, library staff believe that software to block access to objectionable sites will not work because sites can change their addresses, but reference librarians do clear bookmarks from the Internet work stations after use. In six months, three questions on this subject have been received from library patrons. In each case, an explanation of library policy by the director has sufficed to answer the question. Nevertheless, she is far from complacent that this is the end of the subject for the James-Madison Regional Library.

Selle would like to find out how other networks are assessing the outcomes or impact of their efforts. So far, traditional means of counting and anecdotal evidence show that individuals and groups have uniformly given positive responses to the network, but is this enough? In order to make decisions and justify expenditures, the library is looking for both guidance and funding to analyze the impact of its efforts.