CLR Case Studies–Seattle Public Library

Technical Infrastructure


An HP 900-K200 computer serves as hub for the library’s online Dynix catalog, which is available at 90 workstations and on 400 terminals throughout the library system and via dial-in and telnet. Electronic journal indexing and full-text are acquired online from IAC and made available at workstations and terminals in the central library and branches, and by dial-in or telnet.

Throughout the library, 90 workstations (85 PCs and 5 Macs) and 195 terminals are available for general use in public areas. Of these, 30 workstations and some 170 terminals offer access to text-based resources on the Internet (only) and 20 workstations offer access to the Internet with full graphical capabilities. The library’s high-end workstations are Pentium P120 PCs. In addition, the library has placed two workstations (one with World Wide Web capabilities) in a self-service library located in a community social service center.

Five Unix machines in the central library support telecommunication services including the library’s gopher services, the library’s World Wide Web site, a web site for libraries in the state of Washington, and Internet mail services. The library system connects to the Internet through a frame relay 512KB line and a leased T1 line. It uses WLN and PSI as local Internet service providers for staff and public use. All branches connect to the Internet through the library’s wide area network at speeds ranging from 19.2 to 56KB and have text-based access to the World Wide Web. Six branches have graphical access to the Internet through dial-up PPP accounts. The library would like to place routers and hubs in each branch and use frame relay technology for network connections. The strategy is to make one branch at a time fully operational as funds permit, acquiring a Tl line and the capacity for using multimedia resources. The library maintains a Novell 4 network in its bibliographic services department. Microsoft NT local area networks operate in each of the community learning laboratories. In the labs, CD-ROM products are loaded on the ten gigabyte hard drives of the network servers to speed local access to interactive multimedia products.

Technology Research and Development

In a proposal submitted to the library Board of Trustees in 1993, Liz Stroup said that while many opportunities exist for using new technologies in libraries, the benefits of these technologies have not been realized. Subsequently, the board approved the proposal, which established a Center for Technology in the Public Library at the Seattle Public Library. The center is a research and development institute dedicated to applying information technologies to public libraries. It is the first public library institute of its kind in the country, and is funded through an endowment managed by the library board. The center director works with high-technology companies, universities, foundations, government agencies, and electronic publishers to explore different avenues for delivering information electronically. The center also serves as a clearinghouse to help others find solutions to their technological problems.

At the time of the Council’s visit in May 1996, the center had a staff of three, including the center director, Willem Scholten. Scholten and his staff were conducting experiments not only to find technical solutions to problems, but also to improve interactivity among organizations. To date, the Seattle Art Museum, community colleges, and high schools have participated in experiments and pilot projects. Library school students (as volunteers or interns for credit) work in the center to gain practical experience in library technology. The center has managed the library’s participation in the Libraries Online! program, and development of the library’s four computer laboratories.