Westmoreland County, Pa. libraries are getting a tech upgrade.
The Westmoreland Library Network, which provides support to the 24 county libraries, received $650,000 in grant funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the federal government, and has been using it on technology upgrades over the last year.
“We’re at a much higher level,” said Cesare Muccari, executive director of the library system.
The first – and most time-consuming – step was rewiring all libraries for more internet bandwidth. Some were using the same internet infrastructure they had more than a decade ago, Muccari said.
“This day and age, speed is important. Bandwidth is important,” he said.
The network improvements were recently completed, and library directors say they already notice a difference.
“Everything is moving much faster. I feel like we’re able to keep up with competing libraries in other counties,” said Jessica Beichler, director of Trafford Community Public Library.
Tracy Trotter, director of Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe, said internet service used to drag if too many people were using it, especially if someone was doing bandwidth-intensive activities like streaming video.
“In the past, we’ve had to go in and cut people off if we found out someone was streaming a movie or something and preventing people from doing any work of any kind,” she said.
That’s no longer a problem.
The library network also standardized the equipment used at each library and took over repair and maintenance services. Each library had been responsible for maintaining its own technology, and each handled it a bit differently, said Joe Fee, technology resources coordinator for the library network.
The grant allowed the network to bring on a second full-time technology employee, and all the libraries now use similar equipment.
“We know exactly how everything is configured, how everything is set up, and it saves time on both ends,” Fee said.
This allows library staff to worry less about technological hassles, he said.
“The whole idea is to take the work off them, so they can focus on library services,” he said.
The network has been looking for other ways to make life easier for libraries, Muccari said.
It’s rolling out an automated calling system that will replace mail deliveries of overdue-book notifications. That is expected to save thousands of dollars, Muccari said.
A call costs about a penny, while postage is about 40 cents per notification.
The network will soon equip libraries with iPads containing a custom app for new patrons to sign up for a library card, which will cut down on a previously time-consuming task, Muccari said.
All county libraries recently received “people counters,” which use motion sensors to count the number of people coming into or leaving the building and logs the data into an automated computer system.
Muccari said that will give libraries more information about how they are used.
“People were saying libraries are dead, and that’s nonsense,” he said. “I think we need to have metrics.”
Trotter said the changes will help libraries be more efficient and more effective.
“Everything we’ve ever done where we’ve chosen to standardize has always been a positive,” she said.
She pointed to the creation of a shared library catalog in 2007 as an example. The county’s libraries united to create a single online database of all their materials, allowing a patron from one library to request a book from any library in the county.
The network isn’t finished, Muccari said.
“We’re not stopping now,” he said. “We have other ideas.”
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
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