Rural library keeps up with high-tech
by Jack Deming
Oct 17, 2013 | 4226 views | 0 0 comments | 116 116 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dover Free Library director John Flores, right, and patron Christina MacDonald at a computer workstation.
Dover Free Library director John Flores, right, and patron Christina MacDonald at a computer workstation.
“We’re always moving forward,” says John Flores, director of the Dover Free Library. “We’re always thinking of something.”

And you have to, according to Flores, to keep a library true to its mission as the community’s athenaeum. With books, magazines, audio books, and computers, librarians have always had their hands full, and now with easier ways to read invented each year, from e-books to the Kindle, libraries have found they need to be on the cutting edge of technology, and always adapting.

Flores is what you might call a progressive librarian, and with fiber-optic Internet being turned on in the near future, and iPads being lent out with the same barcode you’d find on a book, Dover Free Library is doing all it can to keep up with the world.

While the library has had two ipads and three notebook computers for three years, they just began to lend them out this month. While the borrower has to put a $50 deposit on them and sign an agreement that Flores jokes “signs away your life,” Flores says the goal is to make more ways to read and connect with the world available to more people in the community.

“Some libraries in places like New York City have no books now,” said Flores, “If you want a book you have to request it. But people are still checking out our books, because books will never die no matter what people say. We’re offering to check out these devices, to try to find more ways to get people into the library.”

The iPads and notebooks were bought along with two desktop computers through a grant from e-Vermont, which helps rural towns connect to the Internet. The iPads contain applications such as e-books 360 access, as well as Zeneo, which connects readers to a wide variety of magazines. The grant also allowed the library to begin providing free Internet classes and workshops. In a rural community like Dover, Flores says it’s important to be able to offer these technological advances as well as help in using them.

“We’re helping the community keep up to date. If they take these things home, especially those who don’t have computers, they can try them,” said Flores. “Some people act like when we had VHS and we got DVDs, nobody wanted to check out the DVDs, because it’s new stuff, and eventually people move over to new things. We still have our books of course, and those will always be the main way of reading.”

Dover Free Library will be connecting to the latest and fastest Internet by the end of the year, taking advantage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010, which set aside $7.2 billion in federal stimulus money for expansion of broadband access. Along with the Dover School, the library will be receiving their fiber-optic Internet services, after the Vermont Department of Libraries and Vermont Telecommunications teamed up to make the services available to rural libraries. Sovernet will be installing the service, and according to Peter Stolley, vice president of sales and marketing, fiber-optic service is on track to be running by the end of the year.

“If you think about rural locations,” said Stolley, “ and the evolution of the Internet, we had dial-up, and dial-up improved, and some areas got DSL, and some got cable. The beauty of fiber is as people’s needs grow, the pipe into their building can grow with them. It’s infinitely expandable, it’s future-proof.”

In some cases, the installation of fiber optics can cost over $250,000, but thanks to $400,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation subsidizing the cost of matching grants, this service has come at no cost to the library.

Fiber-optic Internet is a dedicated line, not shared like a cable box in which the strength of service can sometimes hinge on how many computers are connected to it at once. According to Stolley, Dover is one of 38 rural libraries statewide receiving the service. Stolley also said that while the equipment was installed two months ago, fiber-optic service should begin soon, but Sovernet still needs to run a few more tests before they can flick the switch.

The grant used by the department of libraries was part of the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. VTEL was the lead applicant, and decided to start the service in “anchor institutions” such as schools, police and fire stations, and libraries.

State library development consultant Jeremiah Kellogg says that installing fiber optics now will save these libraries money in the long run. “This is a high cost project,” said Kellogg. “There will come a time when fiber is the way we access the Internet, and by getting it now we’re ahead of the game. In 10 to 20 years, you’ll find cable is in the same place as dial-up is right now.”

Part of Kellogg’s job is to visit libraries and tell them what they can expect from the new service, including an increased ability to use video communication in case an individual had to use Skype for a cross-country interview, for example. In Fairfield, the program has allowed migrant workers to see and speak to their families in other countries via an improved video service.

“The role of libraries in communities is changing and in order to be relevant, we have to change with the times and offer services we’re known for, while keeping up with technology,” said Kellogg.

Along with fiber optics, the Dover Library has invested in six new business model IBM computers to replace the small notebooks they had for general use, as well as the circulation and children’s librarians’ computers. This, Flores said, has encouraged more people to use the library.

So what’s Flores’ next idea for Dover Free Library? A café area where people can eat their lunch, or grab a cup of coffee to accompany their reading, listening or browsing.
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