Parkland Regional Library is a cooperative network of 50 public and 36 school libraries serving over 200,000 residents of central Alberta. Parkland’s member libraries are spread across a distance of nearly 25,000 square kilometers, all the way from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Some member libraries, smaller than a kitchen, are situated in communities of less than 100 while a handful of the region’s larger libraries serve 20,000 or more residents with space to accommodate coffee bars, children’s areas, fireplaces, lounges, and programming rooms.
As members of the Parkland Regional Library system, all libraries, regardless of size, have access to a full range of Parkland’s services. From its headquarters in Lacombe, Parkland provides materials purchasing and cataloguing support, IT and systems support, interlibrary loans and daily van deliveries, library consulting services, professional development for library staff and volunteers, and many value-added extras.
In 2011, Parkland Regional Library embarked on an ambitious “IT Management for Member Libraries” project, which involves the centralized management of nearly 500 library computers throughout the region and the wireless networks at all 50 public libraries. Parkland chose to invest in this project as a tangible way to help member libraries address the technology needs of central Albertans. Public computer and internet access is an increasingly vital library service, particularly for those unable to afford technology at home. In many of the region’s small communities, the library might be the only available space where the public can access high speed internet.
Parkland knew that many of its member libraries were struggling to keep up with evolving technology; many libraries lacked the skills, time, and money required to adequately manage and maintain their own hardware and software. To compound matters, public libraries were having a tough time managing the wireless internet use for public library patrons. In 2010, the internet bandwidth for the region doubled. Parkland’s investigation found that the huge spike in usage was caused by improper wireless setups at different libraries.
While Parkland had traditionally provided IT help to libraries through telephone troubleshooting and annual site visits, these methods were clearly no longer enough. The “IT Management for Member Libraries” project solves a number of technology issues in one fell swoop. When completed, every member library in central Alberta will have a safe and secure wireless network, offsite backup storage, and staff and public computers loaded with the newest version of Microsoft Office and Windows and other software. Going forward, computers at all 50 public libraries can be maintained and updated from Parkland headquarters, allowing libraries to be the best they can be.
The project has involved a number of key milestones. Last summer, Parkland purchased and designed the requirements of wireless access points to serve staff and patrons in 50 locations. A bulk Microsoft Software license was also purchased to allow the migration to a centrally managed environment for all the region’s computers. Parkland knew that libraries wouldn’t be able to run the new software on old clunkers, so ensuring that every library had good computers became the next top priority. Using Parkland reserve funds and Industry Canada funding, Parkland’s IT staff purchased 183 new Dell computers, saving nearly $80,000 with bulk pricing. The new computers arrived at Parkland in January 2012. By February, the IT team had started travelling to libraries to install the computers and update networks.
While the initial installations are not quite complete, the project is moving well ahead of schedule. By mid-July, Parkland’s IT staff had travelled 7500 kilometers to visit 43 of the 50 libraries. Along the way, 378 computers had been integrated, 145 new computers installed, and 47 wireless access points installed. The value of Parkland services, provided at no charge to libraries, is estimated at over $200,000.00. By the end of the summer, all libraries will have been upgraded. Parkland’s IT staff is working through the last of the kinks when it comes to updating computers remotely. They expect the process to be streamlined by the early fall, when regularly scheduled computer updates will occur automatically across central Alberta in the wee hours of the night.
While this has been a ground-breaking project for Parkland Regional Library, and will save member library staff countless headaches and resources, the real winners in this scenario are the 200,000 residents of central Alberta. On a typical day, hundreds of people of all ages use Parkland library computers to email, research, surf the internet, complete homework assignments, create PowerPoint presentations, or work in Excel or Publisher. From here forward, when they enter a Parkland library – no matter how small – they can be assured of working with up-to-date, bug-free technology on a safe, wireless network. It’s hard to put a price on that.