into the 21st Century
© by Paul Golaszewski
electronic touch of today's fast-paced, Web-wired world
reaches out to virtually every one of us, regardless
where we may be -- at home, at work, and now, even while
we're trundling around town in our SUVs.
the remaining (and ever-decreasing) minority of people
without any Internet access at all, a quick trip to
a computer workstation at the local public library is
the typical solution. Unfortunately, more than one million
residents of New York State - the highest number for
any state in the country - don't have this alternative
because they lack access to even the most basic library
ever since January 2001 in the central upstate New York
territory of Four County Library System, unserved residents
can make their own connection with the Internet simply
by climbing aboard Four County's Cybermobile.
37-foot custom-built Cybermobile was the world's first
to provide public Internet access exclusively via satellite.
This 21st century version of the original book wagon
(see sidebar) is bringing the next generation of information
to those living in some of New York's smallest towns
of our most important roles is to provide library services
to residents who are geographically isolated or who
otherwise do not have convenient access to a library,"
said David Karre, executive director and CEO of Four
County Library System in Vestal, whose 35 full- and
part-time staff members serve 42 public libraries in
a territory three times the size of Delaware. "The
Cybermobile is one way for us to ensure that our rural
neighbors do not become information-poor casualties
in an information-rich society."
up to meet special challenges
The vision for the Cybermobile project came in 1998
when Karre recognized the fast-approaching need to replace
the organization's aging bookmobile, its third since
the service began 35 years ago. While attending the
American Library Association's annual conference, it
occurred to him that to properly meet the needs of his
heavily rural population, a new-age bookmobile was called
for, one that could deliver enhanced services that included
Internet access. Thus was born Four County Library System's
Cybermobile concept, but it would have an innovative
County's territory is sliced by the foothills of the
Catskills and Adirondacks, where there are few Internet
or cellular phone service providers," Karre said.
"Even landline-based telephone service is limited
in some places. The only practical method for linking
with the Internet at the 50-plus sites our vehicle visits
was via satellite."
with a Rochester-based global communications company
proved this to be the most cost-effective method for
ongoing delivery of mobile Internet access. It's also
the method used by international companies and the U.S.
military for efficiently serving similar types of remote
locations. "Our goal was not to simply replace
but to dramatically improve upon the traditional 'books-only'
delivery vehicle," said Janet Potter, then Four
County's board president, and director, Milne Memorial
Library, State University of New York College at Oneonta.
County's project included the Cybermobile with 1.2-meter
controllable rooftop satellite dish antenna, a 2.4-meter
fixed antenna at the System's offices, and full-time
satellite access with 100% closed network capability.
In the field, the Cybermobile links via satellite with
the System's network; there the Internet connection
is made and the vehicle's onboard computers brought
the high-tech Cybermobile is on the road bringing cost-effective
service to customers, enabling them to access the Internet,
the regional library catalog, and virtually the entire
spectrum of electronic resources. It also opens the
door to teleconferencing and online or distance learning
opportunities. In addition, Four County Library System
is exploring collaborative partnerships with corporate,
government, and nonprofit organizations that can help
deliver other value-added services in fields such as
workforce development, health care, and youth programs.
out with a powerful new tool
"The Cybermobile gives us an effective way to reach
out to unserved residents who are unemployed, underemployed,
or otherwise at a disadvantage," said Steve Bachman,
Four County's outreach and electronic services manager.
such application is to satisfy rural patrons' needs
to find new employment opportunities and advance their
careers. "This is a critically important function,
just as it is at a traditional bricks-and-mortar public
library," Bachman said. Job seekers and those striving
to enhance their careers can use the Cybermobile to
learn about job markets and employment trends; find
wage and salary information; search job banks and connect
with placement resources; explore Civil Service exam
information; and create and post electronic resumes.
$295,000 cost of the project was covered by grants and
other support awarded to Four County. These include
a $50,000 New York State Senate initiative, a $105,000
federal appropriation from US Senator Charles Schumer
and US Representative Maurice Hinchey, as well as grants
from five private foundations and Verizon Foundation.
The Cybermobile also is supported, in part, by Federal
Library Services and Technology Act funds, awarded to
the New York State Library by the Federal Institute
of Museum and Library Services.
Cybermobile was built by Matthews Specialty Vehicles
as the replacement for a 13-year-old bookmobile that
logged 175,000 miles. Global Communications Solutions
designed and installed the satellite linkage system.
IBM Corporation donated six ThinkPad notebook computers,
each with 15-inch high-resolution display, 550-MHz processor,
and CD-ROM drive. Pear Creative Group, an award-winning
graphic design firm in Endicott, NY, donated its time
and expertise in creating Four County's new logo and
a mobile public library, the vehicle carries a 3,000-volume
collection of books, books-on-tape, and large-print
books. The Cybermobile's integrated hardware delivers
fast setup and connection with the Internet, excellent
service efficiency with six computers, and rapid output
of hard-copy information from two high-quality printers.
An electric lift and portable wheelchair allow access
for persons with disabilities, and a collapsible awning
provides options for occasional delivery of programs
Internet is a powerful tool for students and adults
to do research for school projects, to find product
information, to learn more about health care, and to
stay informed about the world," said New York State
Senator Thomas Libous of Binghamton, a public library
advocate and key supporter of the project who provided
the senate initiative that kicked off the development
campaign. Added Janet Welch, New York State Librarian
and assistant commissioner for libraries, "The
Cybermobile can provide access to the Internet for people
who would never have had it before.
County Library System's ability to roll a 21st century
library into remote communities allows it to uniquely
fulfill its mission ". . . . to expand and improve
library services in the four-county area . . . . to
be a leader as a regional public library system . .
. . to utilize the most current technology . . . ."
Cybermobile is a vivid example of the way in which some
of today's most remarkable technology can be applied
to a beloved American icon.