Netmom.com

In 1992, while I was still working at Liverpool Public Library, I received a grant from the JM Kaplan Foundation to study the possible (!) utility of the Internet to public libraries. Within months I was working at NYSERNet (NY State Education and Research Network), a midlevel regional network of the NSFNet, and took my grant along with me. Then the Apple Computer corporate library contributed equipment, NYSERNet contributed connectivity and my time, and we began the study.

This is how we announced the publication:

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: Tue, 8 Mar 1994 15:15:24 -0500
From: Jean Armour Polly <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Beverly Hunter <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;,
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Mike Eisenberg <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;,
    JShubert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;,
    "Simson L. Garfinkel" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject: THE NYSERNet PROJECT GAIN REPORT is out!

Please distribute to appropriate places.

THE NYSERNet PROJECT GAIN REPORT:
Connecting Rural Public Libraries to the Internet

A Project Report by Charles R. McClure, Waldo C. Babcock,
Karen A. Nelson, Jean Armour Polly, Stephen R. Kankus
February 15, 1994

What happens when an Internet connection
and a rural public library join forces?
-- MAGIC!

NYSERNet is pleased to announce the availability of information
on Project GAIN,  which extended Internet access and training to
five rural New York State public libraries and one Indian nation
school. The study began in December 1992 and the evaluation
phase has just ended a year later.

Project GAIN (Global Access Information Network) studied the
concept that if rural librarians were given the tools and training
to use networked information resources, they could do so
effectively and thereby improve the quality of service they offered
their patrons. Project GAIN demonstrates the effectiveness of
linking rural communities, typically without access to networked
electronic information, to a rich and extensive global information
environment, the Internet.

The Project GAIN Report describes a number of findings
documenting the  impacts of such connectivity on the library, the
librarians, the local community, and the Internet community.  The
report also provides evaluation information that should be helpful
for other public libraries considering opening a branch in
Cyberspace.  It outlines the lessons learned from connecting and
providing networked-based services; details critical success factors
contributing to the overall accomplishments of the project; and
offers a number of recommendations for public librarians, network
service providers, policymakers, and researchers to enhance the
role of public libraries in the networked environment. Appendices
include evaluation instruments, contracts, success stories, and
more.

Individuals may access an electronic version of this report that
includes the  text of the report without figures and appendices
through FTP or the gopher at NYSERNet, for any free educational
purpose. Commercial use requires permission of NYSERNet.

For FTP, FTP to nysernet.org, login as
"anonymous," give your email address as password,
Directory:
pub/gain/final_report.

If you have gopher client software, point it at
nysernet.org, port 70.  The final report can be found in "Special
Collections:
Libraries/NYSERNet Project GAIN Rural Libraries/Project GAIN
Final Report."

Attractive, two-color copies may be ordered from NYSERNet as
noted below.

NYSERNet thanks the J.M. Kaplan Foundation, the Apple Library
of Tomorrow program (a project of the Apple Library at Apple
Computer Cupertino, CA), OCLC, Addison-Wesley, O'Reilly and
Associates, and U.S. Robotics for making this study possible.
------------------>   PROJECT GAIN REPORT ORDER FORM    <-------------------

Please send me the Project GAIN Report @ $10.00 per copy.

Number of copies ordered:

Send the order to:

NAME:

INSTITUTION:

ADDRESS:

CITY:

STATE:

ZIP:

PHONE (include area code):

EMAIL ADDRESS:

TOTAL ENCLOSED   $


Pre-payment required. Price includes shipping and handling in the US.
Make check or money order payable to NYSERNet, Inc.

Mail to:

NYSERNet
200 Elwood Davis Rd., Suite 103
Liverpool, NY 13088-6147

Phone orders will be accepted with credit card purchase.  Orders of more
than 10 copies may be eligible for price discount.  Call 315/453-2912, x221, or
send email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

==========================



Jean Armour Polly                       This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of User Services             co-moderator PUBLIB,
NYSERNet, Inc.                            the public library list.
200 Elwood Davis Rd.                  and PUBLIB-NET, Internetworking
Suite 103                                         for public librarians.
Liverpool, NY 13088-6147
315/453-2912 ext 224  FAX 315 453-3052
....  Laboring in the vineyards along the Infobahn...


Here is the study:

 

T H E  P R O J E C T  G A I N  R E P O R T :

CONNECTING RURAL PUBLIC LIBRARIES TO THE INTERNET

 

Project Evaluation Report Prepared for:

NYSERNet, Inc.
200 Elwood Davis Road, Suite 103
Liverpool, NY 13088-6147
315-453-2912

 

By

Charles R. McClure, Waldo C. Babcock, Karen A. Nelson
Jean Armour Polly, Stephen R. Kankus

 

February 15, 1994

 

Information Management Consultant Services, Inc.
7508 Northfield Lane
Manlius, NY 13104
315-682-8700

 

(c) NYSERNet, Inc. and Charles R. McClure
200 Elwood Davis Road, Suite 103
Liverpool, NY 13088-6147
315-453-2912

All rights reserved. Permission to copy, reproduce, or disseminate any
portion of the hardcopy report must be obtained, in writing from
NYSERNet, Jean Armour Polly <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>.

Individuals may access an electronic version of this report that includes the
text of the report without figures and appendices through FTP or the gopher
at NYSERNet, for any free educational purpose. Commercial use requires
permission as above. For FTP, FTP to nysernet.org, login as "anonymous,"
give your email address as password, Directory: pub/gain/final_report. If
you have gopher client software, point it at nysernet.org, port 70. The final
report can be found in "Special Collections: Libraries/NYSERNet Project
GAIN Rural Libraries/Project GAIN Final Report."

Copies of the complete report can be obtained from the Publications Office,
NYSERNet, 200 Elwood Davis Road, Suite 103, Liverpool, NY 13088-6147
(315-453-2912) for $10.00 (includes postage and handling). For additional
information email to <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS
_________________

PREFACE

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

INTRODUCTION
Importance
Project Overview

EVALUATION APPROACH
Evaluation Objectives
Method
Key Variables
Data Collection Methods
Plan Versus Reality
Analysis of Data
Quality of Data Issues

FINDINGS
Impacts on Libraries
Impacts on the Local Communities
Impacts on the Internet Community
Lessons Learned
Critical Success Factors

CONCLUSIONS
Internet Connectivity is Essential
A Little Money Makes a Big Difference
Long Distance Telecommunications Charges
Difficulty in Providing Public Access
The Public Library as a Safety Net
Connectivity May Not be the Key Problem
Attitude

RECOMMENDATIONS
For Public Librarians
For Network Service Providers
For Policymakers
For Researchers

REACHING FOR THE FUTURE

REFERENCES

APPENDICES (not included in the electronic version of this document)

A. Structured Interview: Candidate Libraries
B. Training Needs Assessment
C. Baseline Survey
D. June 14, 1993 Training Evaluation Form
E. Network Activity Log
F. NYSERNet Support Log
G. Site Visits Instructions and Method
H. On-Site Training Evaluation Form
I. Endpoint Survey
J. Focus Group Discussion Topics
K. Focus Group Participant Information Form
L. Letter from Town of Webb Schools
M. Posting to PUBLIB Regarding Literacy
N. LEARNER Mission Statement
O. LITERACY Mission Statement
P. Project GAIN - Cooperative Agreement
Q. Some Great Stories from Project GAIN

 

PREFACE
_______

What happens when an Internet connection and a rural
public library join forces? MAGIC!

NYSERNet is pleased to provide information on Project GAIN, which
extended Internet access and training to five rural New York State public
libraries and one Indian nation school. The study began in December 1992
and the evaluation phase has just ended a year later.

What is NYSERNet?

NYSERNet is the New York State Education and Research Network, a
501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation. Our mission is to advance effective and
ubiquitous network access to information and computational resources,
collaborative tools and leading edge technologies to all individuals and
sectors within the State of New York and to realize an affordable information
structure for all.

NYSERNet sells network connections from low end terminal-to-host
dialup to T1 leased lines, adding value such as training, publications,
conventions, and helpdesk support. NYSERNet has some three hundred fifty
members, comprised of libraries, k-12 and higher education sites, museums,
hospitals, R&D businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Additionally,
NYSERNet operates one of the few public VERONICA servers in the world,
which allows users to search for information on the Internet.

Other proactive initiatives include a women in science/teenager
mentoring program, a Breast Cancer Clearinghouse gopher server and
MOSAIC/WWW server, sponsorship of many listserv discussion groups,
public packet video reflector using CU-SeeMe, and many other innovative
programs.

How was the Study Funded?

NYSERNet began seeking funding for this project in September, 1992. A
$65,000 grant from the J.M. Kaplan Foundation paid for NYSERNet's project
management, the outside evaluator, focus group meetings, site visits, data
collection, helpdesk support for the sites, and some equipment and software
purchases. It also allowed us to grant $800 to sites who had to make long-
distance calls to get network access, to help defray their telecommunications
costs.

Again, as part of a NYSERNet proposal, The Apple Library of Tomorrow
program, a project of the Apple Library at Apple Computer (Cupertino, CA)
awarded Project GAIN one of its four 1993 equipment grants. Each site got a
color Macintosh Classic, laser printer, faxmodem, and associated software.
Additional Project GAIN sponsors, solicited by NYSERNet, included: OCLC,
Addison-Wesley, O'Reilly and Associates, and U.S. Robotics.

What happened?

Project GAIN has been an unqualified success. Here are some important
reasons why:

o each site has at least one champion who is enthusiastic about the project
and will go the extra mile to follow through and make something work.

o each site has standardized on equipment and software. This makes the job
of the support team that much easier.

o the type of Internet connectivity (SLIP) the sites were given allowed
use of easy communications tools.

o each site has had the same initial training, and has formed a local users
group to support one another. Additionally, all the sites communicate with
all other sites, so there is a lot of informal sharing taking place.

o telecommunications for long distance calls to the network point of
presence were subsidized. Some people felt that the idea of "the meter
running" constrained their exploration of the network, and impaired their
ability to implement the net into their daily lives. Each long distance site
received an $800 subsidy towards their telco costs.

o support, support, support. The project manager, Wally Babcock, followed
these sites on an almost daily basis, responding to email and phone queries,
and if the sites didn't call him, he called the sites to make sure things were
progressing smoothly.

What's next?

We have learned a number of other things from the project; besides this
final report, a documentary video and CD ROM product will be released
later this year. We have both wonderful anecdotal stories and hard numbers
which inform the conclusions. The fact that we added an evaluation
component, by a respected outside group (Information Management
Consultant Services, Inc.), has made Project GAIN a lightning rod for
national attention, both from groups who want to replicate the project, and
public policy-makers inside the D.C. beltway.

Some of the sites have budgeted to keep their connections past the June
1994 cutoff date, others are scrambling to find funding. We are trying to
assist all of them in finding funding as they are a perfect test group for
another project: all the equipment, training and enthusiasm is there,
raring to go!

James D. Luckett
Vice President and Executive Director
Jean Armour Polly and Waldo Babcock, Co-Project Managers

 

CONTACTS FOR PROJECT GAIN and SITES

NYSERNet, Inc.
200 Elwood Davis Rd. Suite 103
Liverpool, NY 13088-6147
(315) 453-2912 FAX (315) 453-3052
Project Managers:
Waldo Babcock (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) ext 231
Jean Armour Polly (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) ext 224

Baldwinsville: (315) 635-5631
Meg Van Patten (Reference/Adult Services Librarian)
Baldwinsville Public Library
43 Oswego St., Baldwinsville, NY 13027
Email: Meg Van Patten <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Marilyn Laubacher, Director <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Chautauqua: (716) 357-6296
Helene Yurth (Director)
Smith Memorial Library
Clark & Miller Avenue
Box 1093, Chautauqua, NY 14722
Email: Helene Yurth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Lynn Kinnear <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Morrisville: (315) 684-9130
Beverly Choltco-Devlin (Director)
The Morrisville Library
87 East Main St.
P.O. Box 37, Morrisville, NY 13408
Email: Beverly Devlin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Sue Greenhagen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Old Forge: (315) 369-6008
Isabella Worthen (Director)
Old Forge Library
P.O. Box 128, Old Forge, NY 13420
Email: Isabella Worthen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Frances Fulton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Onondaga Nation School: (315) 469-6991
April Kurtz or Bernadette Johnson
Onondaga Nation School
Rte 11-A, RR Box 270
Nedrow, NY 13120
Email: Bernadette Johnson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
April Kurtz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Woodstock: (914) 679-2213 [Voice]; (914) 679-8832 [Fax]
Diana ("D.J.") Stern (Director)
Woodstock Public Library District
5 Library Lane
Woodstock, NY 12498
Email: D.J. Stern <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Jane Letus <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
_________________

Rural America may be falling behind the rest of the nation in its ability to
access electronic information despite the fact that it has critical needs for
being connected to national electronic networks such as the Internet. The
study reported here provides key findings and recommendations that will
help the nation in accomplishing President Bill Clinton's policy goal, as
outlined in his January 25, 1994 State of the Union Address for "connecting
all libraries" to the National Information Infrastructure (NII).

Project GAIN was a pilot project that studied the concept that if rural
librarians were given the tools and training to use networked information
resources, they could do so effectively and thereby improve the quality of
service they offered their patrons. Project GAIN demonstrates the
effectiveness of linking rural communities, typically without access to
networked electronic information, to a rich and extensive global information
environment, the Internet. Via the local library, six rural communities were
linked to a regional network (NYSERNet) that in turn connected them to the
Internet. This project's implementation objectives were to:

o Connect selected library sites to the Internet

o Provide the training and support necessary for participants at the various
sites to be able to demonstrate competence in using the suite of Internet
tools provided to them

o Educate participants as to the resources available on the Internet and how
to do resource discovery on their own, so they could demonstrate a basic
knowledge of resources available and competence in discovering resources
appropriate for users' information needs

o Integrate utilization of the Internet into the basic activities and
programming of the library

o Explore the basic question of whether the Internet is a useful resource for
rural libraries, absent cost concerns.

In terms of these objectives, Project GAIN was very successful. Most
individuals at each site display the basic competencies outlined in the first
three criteria. Activity on the fourth objective is in process as some
programmatic activity utilizing the Internet is in place at all of the sites.
This report accomplishes the last objective.

The evaluation approach combined a quantitative and qualitative
methodology. Multiple data collection instruments were developed and
administered throughout the project. It should be remembered, however,
that this research is exploratory, in that very little prior study of the
actual impacts of network connectivity on rural libraries has been done. The
evaluation was also both formative and summative, in that data gathered
over the course of the project were used for mid-course corrections as well as
for a final assessment.

The evaluation of Project GAIN had to be limited to investigating specific
aspects of the project due to limited resources. Thus, the evaluation had the
following objectives:

o Document impacts on the libraries, their clientele, and the Internet
community as a result of obtaining network connectivity

o Identify the factors that contributed to the success of the project

o Identify the factors that limited the success of the project

o Make recommendations for how the project could be replicated
successfully in other community environments

o Develop and test a range of data collection instruments related to
measuring the impact of Internet connectivity on public libraries.

Ultimately, the evaluation aspect of the project became the means by which a
final report was developed for use by other public librarians and
policymakers.

The report describes a number of findings that document the impacts of
such connectivity on the library, the librarians, the local community, and the
Internet community. The report also provides evaluation information that
should be helpful for other public libraries that are moving into the
networked environment. It outlines the lessons learned from connecting and
providing networked-based services; details critical success factors that
contributed to the overall accomplishments of the project; and offers a
number of recommendations for public librarians, network service
providers, policymakers, and researchers for enhancing the role of public
libraries in the networked environment.

The results of this study indicate that the approach described in this
project is technologically feasible and clearly well within the skills and
competencies of typical rural librarians -- if they are motivated and given
the necessary support. It also shows that if given a chance, rural
librarians and members of the communities they serve can participate as
full-fledged citizens of a global electronic community. Finally, the report
suggests that rural public libraries must get connected to the Internet and
provide networked services if they are to be a key player in the evolving
National Information Infrastructure.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
_______________

The GAIN evaluation team would like to thank, first and foremost, the
participants at the six sites. They gave generously of their time, submitted
to an unending barrage of questionnaires, and extended their warm hospitality
to Wally Babcock when he made his site visits. Many have become friends
as well as colleagues over the course of this project.

We also wish to extend a special thanks to the J. M. Kaplan Foundation
and Apple Computer, whose generous financial and equipment grants made
this project possible. At Apple, we wish to extend a special thanks to Steve
Cisler, as well as the rest of the team at the Apple Library.

The evaluation team would also like to extend its thanks to NYSERNet
and all its staff. Everyone at NYSERNet contributed in some way to the
success of this project.

We also wish to thank OCLC for its generous contribution of First Search
access to the participating libraries. In addition we want to thank
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., Addison-Wesley, and U.S. Robotics for their
contributions to the project.

Finally, we also want to acknowledge the assistance that Kathleen Flynn
provided in organizing and analyzing some of the evaluation data collected
during the study.

 

 

CONNECTING RURAL PUBLIC
LIBRARIES TO THE INTERNET:

THE PROJECT GAIN REPORT
_______________________

 

INTRODUCTION

Public access to information resources is a compelling issue that affects the
very fabric of this country. Information, and access to it, is a critical
need in a democracy. People in rural areas typically have less knowledge
about, and access to, electronic information than those in urban areas. Use
of computing technologies and the Internet, however, can be a powerful
strategy to equalize access to and use of a broad range of electronic
information.

The premise this study investigated was that the public library can serve
as the intermediary, or "linking agent," between the rural population and
the evolving network of electronic information. The New York State
Education Department, in its report The Electronic Doorway Library (1993),
has recognized the increasing importance of electronic information and the
role public libraries can play in providing access to this information.

Librarians have a history of identifying and meeting users' information
needs, and they provide a service perspective of wanting to help their
respective communities in acquiring and using information to improve their
quality of life. Unfortunately, libraries find themselves in an increasingly
tight economic noose. Indeed, many are forced to cut hours of operation as
well as funds for new library materials. Rural libraries, with entire
operating budgets typically hovering around $30,000-$40,000 per year, have
little money for acquisition of reference materials, let alone the services
of a professional librarian.

 

Importance

The project described in this report demonstrates the effectiveness of
linking rural communities, typically without access to electronic information,
to a rich and extensive global information environment, the Internet. Via
the local library, six rural communities were linked to a regional network
(NYSERNet) that in turn connected them to the Internet.

The results of this study indicate that such an approach is technologically
feasible and clearly well within the skills and competencies of typical rural
librarians -- if they are motivated and given the necessary support. It also
shows that if given a chance, rural librarians and members of the
communities they serve can participate as full-fledged citizens of a global
electronic community.

One of the key reasons this project was undertaken is the dearth of
empirical data concerning the actual utility of networked information,
particularly in a rural context. As the debate over the shape of the National
Information Infrastructure (NII) develops (Office of the President, 1993a), it
is important that the debate be informed by research that allows policy
makers to make informed choices. Thus, the evaluation component of
Project GAIN was given a high priority.

Studies by Vavrek (1990, 1993) have produced two nationwide surveys of
rural residents regarding their information needs and the role of the local
library in meeting those needs. Particularly in the later survey, a high
demand for access to "computerized information" was noted (Vavrek, 1993,
p. 25). In his commentary on the implications of this survey, Vavrek
laments the fact that much of the leadership in the library community seems
to be reluctant to face the fact that the environment in which libraries
operate is being irrevocably changed by the advent of new and varied means of
access to information in electronic form (p. 35).

Indeed, rural America may be falling behind the rest of the nation in its
ability to access electronic information despite the fact that it has critical
needs for being connected (Congress, 1991). Policy issues and
recommendations offered in this Congressional study require attention by
national policy makers. Further, the telecommunications context and policy
system for rural America has been somewhat ignored (Parker, et al., 1989).
More research and attention needs to be given to "connecting" rural America
to the global society.

McClure et al. (1993) investigated the role of public libraries in the
evolving Internet/NREN. They used a variety of data gathering techniques,
including surveys, focus groups, and a site visit. They looked at the
existing state of librarians' opinions regarding key issues in public
libraries' involvement in the networked environment and concluded (p. 32):

The evolving role of the public library in the networked environment can
incorporate the traditional safety net role ensuring that all citizens have
access to the network. . . . [New] roles must be created and visions for
these roles must materialize now. Immediate public library involvement
in the design and structure of the Internet/NREN will ensure that the
public library is a key player and stakeholder in the evolving national
networked environment.

While the work done in that study was the first of its kind, it examined
public libraries from a very broad perspective.

Those readers wishing additional background information about public
libraries and the Internet should refer to the references and the sources
cited in the references at the conclusion of this report. A literature
review of the topic is not included in this report. Nor does this report
provide an introduction to navigating the network. The existing literature,
however, has not examined the process of how a public library would move from
knowing little about the Internet to being fully connected and using it as a
normal course of action.

Thus, Project GAIN studied the proposition that if rural public librarians
were given the tools and training to use networked information resources,
they could do so effectively and thereby improve the quality of the services
they offered their patrons. This project's main implementation objectives
were to:

o Connect selected library sites to the Internet

o Provide the training and support necessary for participants at the
various sites to be able to demonstrate competence in using the suite of
Internet tools provided to them

o Educate participants as to the resources available on the Internet and
how to do resource discovery on their own, so they could demonstrate a
basic knowledge of resources available and competence in discovering
resources appropriate for users' information needs

o Integrate utilization of the Internet into the basic activities and
programming of the library

o Explore the basic question of whether the Internet is a useful resource
for rural libraries, absent cost concerns.

In terms of these criteria, Project GAIN is clearly a success. Most
individuals at each site display the basic competencies outlined in the first
three criteria.

Some programmatic activity utilizing the Internet is in place at all of the
sites. But the degree of integrating the Internet into basic library
services is uneven, and participants from several of the sites are just now,
six months into having the equipment and being connected, beginning to reach
the "take-off" stage in terms of programming.

The objectives of the evaluation component will be discussed in detail in a
later section, but the overall purpose was to obtain empirical evidence that
described the impacts of network connectivity on the library, library staff,
the library's clientele, and on the Internet community. It is essential to
know if network connectivity "makes a difference" either to the library or
for the library's clientele. The study reported here assesses how five rural
public libraries, and one Indian Nation school used their connections to the
Internet. Further, the report attempts to document "good examples" of how
rural public libraries can connect to the Internet and successfully use it.

While cost effectiveness is ultimately a very important criterion in
deciding which services to offer, Project GAIN attempted to remove the
barriers of cost to the libraries in question so that they would be free to
use the resources available without constant worry as to the costs being
incurred.

The project team took the approach that the first priority was to test the
utility of using electronic resources in the rural library context, focusing
at a later time on how to provide these services in a cost-effective manner.

Although a wealth of data was gathered over the course of the project, the
study team was unable to develop and test performance measures to assess
the utilization and impact of networked information resources. Such
measures need to be developed, and this study hopes to make a modest
contribution in achieving that objective.

 

Project Overview

Project GAIN, the Global Access Information Network, provided five
rural public libraries and one Indian Nation K-8 school in upstate New York
with computers, modems, software, and printers; Internet connectivity
(lasting until June of 1994); and a subsidy to defray long distance
telecommunications costs to the nearest Point of Presence (POP). It also
provided training and support from NYSERNet staff and included an
evaluation component. The participants in the study included librarians at
each of the sites and a number of local community members. Throughout
the evaluation period some 30-35 individuals participated in the project.

Initial funding for the project was obtained by a NYSERNet application
for a grant from the J. M. Kaplan Foundation. This grant was supplemented
by an Apple Library of Tomorrow grant which provided equipment for the
sites and support staff at NYSERNet.

Macintosh computers were the platform of choice, for one basic reason:
Macintosh Internet tools are the easiest to install and use. Software like
Fetch (for file transfers), Eudora (for mail), TurboGopher, and Mosaic make
start-up for newcomers to the Internet easier than other platforms. All
equipment was provided on a loan basis until the libraries fulfilled their
responsibilities in the study at the end of 1993, at which time the equipment
became permanent property of the sites.

NYSERNet gave Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP) connections to all
sites. This allowed them to take advantage of the complete suite of Internet
services, including electronic mail (email), telnet, file transfer protocol
(FTP), and gopher. They were also able to utilize the client software
mentioned above to provide ease of use of these services. NYSERNet also
provided each site with five accounts on a file server maintained at NYSERNet
headquarters. This, in conjunction with special configuration of the Eudora
software used for email, allowed each site to have five separate mail
accounts for library staff and users.

 

Phase 1: Planning and Tasking
January 1993 - May 1993

The project began in January 1993, and on March 1, 1993, NYSERNet was
notified that Project GAIN would be one of four projects in the nation to
receive an Apple Library of Tomorrow grant. This news, combined with the
Kaplan Foundation grant NYSERNet had already been received, assured the
provision of hardware and software to six sites plus funding for the staff
necessary for both the implementation and evaluation components of the
project.

The six Project GAIN sites were selected after an initial pool of candidates
was identified using knowledgeable informants. Next, the study team
developed a set of criteria intended to identify those most suitable for
participation in the project. Staff at candidate libraries were interviewed
in light of these criteria, and then the final sites were selected. Figure 1
depicts the location of the participating sites.

Two interns from Syracuse University's School of Information Studies
worked with the study team and NYSERNet's staff to plan the evaluation
and implementation aspects of the project. The study team completed the
following activities during January-May 1993:

o Developed selection criteria for the sites that might participate in the
project

o Conducted telephone interviews with candidate sites

o Based on the interviews, selected participating sites

o Developed the evaluation plan

o Evaluated various alternatives for providing network access to sites

o Designed and implemented network connectivity for the sites

o Obtained contributions from O'Reilly, U.S. Robotics, Addison-
Wesley, and OCLC

o Developed a contract governing the responsibilities of NYSERNet and
the participating sites, which was then signed

o NYSERNet provided Host-Dial (SLIP) accounts for each site

o Assessed participant's training needs and conducted a Baseline
Survey in preparation for the June 14 training session.

Thus, the Spring 1993 phase of the project was largely preparatory in
organizing the project, obtaining the necessary resources, and planning the
evaluation.

 

Phase 2: Implementation and Evaluation
June 1993 - December 1993

June 14 Training Session

On June 14, 1993, 14 people from the six sites came to Liverpool, New
York for a one-day training session at NYSERNet headquarters. The
importance of the project was discussed, and project participants received
training in various aspects of network use, including SLIP, telnet, gopher,
and email. A hands-on demonstration and training session of OCLC's
FirstSearch was also given. At the end of the training, participants from
the sites filled out an evaluation form regarding the training, and were
given the equipment to take back to their sites.

Prior to the training, efforts were made to insure that all the software and
hardware necessary for the project were on hand, set up, and configured
properly, and that the training session itself was well-designed to meet the
needs of the participants. Each site's Macintosh Color Classic was loaded
with software, configured for network access and tested. For the training,
the sites' machines were connected to the NYSERNet LAN so that trainees
could actually practice accessing the Internet and exploring it, rather than
just watching a demonstration.

Set up, configuration, and testing of the equipment minimized problems
once the participants returned to their sites, and within two weeks all the
sites were up and running. There were many phone calls exchanged
between the sites and NYSERNet during this time. They then tapered off
dramatically, and most communication after that took the form of email.

 

Equipment and Software Support

Figure 2 summarizes the direct equipment and software support provided
to each site. This particular set-up is exceptionally high quality, i.e.,
better than what many public libraries would need as a "basic" set-up. The
costs associated with each of the items are based on Spring 1993 prices.

In addition to the costs listed in Figure 2, NYSERNet provided training,
user services, and technical support, which if prorated would be a cost of
approximately $7,795 per site. OCLC donated six months of database access
and unlimited searches, which the libraries found extremely valuable,
especially for medical information. The value of this service is estimated to
be $3,250 for each site. Finally, textbooks were donated by publishers
Addison-Wesley and O'Reilly and Associates valued at $65.00 per site. The
total of these additional "costs" was $11,110. Thus, the total investment per
site was approximately $19,000.

 

Site Visits

The Research Associate assigned to Project GAIN, conducted site visits
during July and August, where further data for the evaluation was gathered
and follow-up training was provided. People at the sites were still
familiarizing themselves with the tools of networking. Despite the relatively
short amount of time they had had their connections, the sites were already
using their connections in a variety of ways.

The site visits were an important component of the project in that the
study team was able to witness firsthand how the sites were using the
connection, answer technical questions related to the connection, and
provide additional training on navigating the network.

 

NYSERNet Gopher

With the initiation of the implementation phase of the project, NYSERNet
established a space on its gopher server where information about the project,
and material from each of the sites, would be accessible to the broader
Internet community as well as to all participants in the project. Initial
material included brief descriptions of each public library site, a brief
description of the project, and the initial press release describing the
project.

If you have gopher client software, point it at nysernet.org, port 70.
Material pertaining to Project GAIN can be found in "Special Collections:
Libraries/NYSERNet Project GAIN Rural Libraries."

 

NYSERNet Conference

Participants from all but one of the GAIN sites attended NYSERNet's
Annual Conference on September 30 - October 1, 1993. This provided an
important opportunity for the participants to get to know each other better,
discuss ideas, and develop a deeper sense that they were involved in an
exciting and important project.

 

Final Focus Group

On November 29, representatives from all of the sites participated in a
focus group session in Liverpool, NY. This was the last major data gathering
effort of the evaluation aspect of the project. It also was an opportunity
for GAIN participants to share ideas with each other, NYSERNet staff, and the
evaluation team. In addition to conducting the focus group session as part
of the evaluation activities, additional training and education about the
network also occurred.

 

Status

The Findings section of this report details the activities of project
participants, but by the end of 1993 the sites were using the network
successfully in a number of different ways:

o Subscribing and posting messages to various listservs

o Utilizing Internet access to OCLC's FirstSearch to solve thorny
reference questions

o Utilizing email on a regular basis

o Collaborating with school librarians on exploring ways the Internet
can be used in a school context

o Accessing the Library of Congress's online catalog

o Utilizing the Internet "gopher" for resource discovery

o Collaborating on integrating the Internet into a summer reading
program for children

o Exploring ways an Internet connection can be used to help the local
business community

o A variety of other programs were in the idea/development stage.

These and other uses suggest that the participants are well on their way to
using their Internet connection for a range of applications.

 

Phase III: Ongoing Program Development
January 1993 - June 1994

While the formal evaluation phase of the project ended in December 1993,
the sites retain their network connectivity until June of 1994. NYSERNet will
continue to assist in program development regarding the uses of network
connectivity at the sites, and hopes to do a follow-up assessment in June
1994 on how the participating libraries are using the network.

Based on the focus group session conducted in November 1993, there is
significant interest at the libraries to continue developing networked-based
services, exploring the Internet for uses and applications of interest in
their particular library, and better integrating networked services into the
community. Continued program development is expected to occur at the
sites during this time period.

 


EVALUATION APPROACH
___________________

Evaluation is the process of identifying and collecting data about specific
services or activities, establishing criteria by which their success can be
assessed, and determining both the quality of the service or activity and the
degree to which the service or activity accomplishes stated goals and
objectives (Van House, Weil, and McClure, 1990).

Evaluation is a decision making tool that is intended, primarily, to (1)
insure that the highest quality services are provided to intended users of
those service, and (2) assist decision makers in allocating necessary
resources to those activities and services that best facilitate the
accomplishment of organizational goals and objectives (Hernon and McClure,
1990). Unfortunately, many networked information services are designed
without user input, and worse, are inadequately (if at all) evaluated by
those for whom the service was originally intended.

User-based evaluation and determination of user needs should be
considered as part of the strategic planning process for the development of
networked information services. Thus, developers of networked information
services constantly need to ask questions such as the following:

o Who are the users of the service and how well are they able to identify
and access a particular service?

o To what degree do networked information services enhance or detract
from users' ability to accomplish specific tasks?

o What information resources and services are most important for
network clientele and how well does the network deliver these services?

o What are the costs and benefits of specific networked information
services and to what degree do these services meet the objectives of both
the provider and the user?

o What are the specific strengths and weaknesses of the information
services and how do these services affect different user groups?

o Would the provider of the networked information service receive
more or better benefits by reallocating resources to new or different
information services?

While this list is not intended to be comprehensive, it suggests that user-
based evaluation of networked information services should accompany the
design and implementation of such services.

While there are a number of criteria that can be used to assess programs,
the following formed the basis for the evaluation activities described in this
report:

o Extensiveness: how much of the service has been provided, e.g.,
number of librarians/users who login per week on a bulletin board, or
the number of email messages per week.

o Efficiency: the use of resources in networked information services,
e.g., cost per session in providing access to remote users of an online
catalog, or average time required to successfully telnet to a remote
database.

o Effectiveness: how well the networked information service met the
objectives of the provider or of the user, e.g., success rate of identifying
and accessing the information needed by the user.

o Impact: how a service made a difference in some other activity or
situation, e.g., identification of how networked information resources
improved or enhanced students' learning.

These four criteria are important elements to consider in evaluating any type
of program. As will be shown later, a number of components of Project
GAIN did not easily lend themselves to such assessment.

 

Evaluation Objectives

The evaluation of Project GAIN had to be limited to investigating specific
aspects of the project due to limited resources. Thus, the evaluation had the
following objectives:

o Document impacts on the libraries, their clientele, and the Internet
community as a result of obtaining network connectivity

o Identify the factors that contributed to the success of the project

o Identify the factors that limited the success of the project

o Make recommendations for how the project could be replicated
successfully in other community environments

o Develop and test a range of data collection instruments related to
measuring the impact of Internet connectivity on public libraries.

Ultimately, the evaluation aspect of the project became the means by which a
final report would be developed for use by other public libraries and
policymakers.

 

Method

The evaluation approach combined a quantitative and qualitative
methodology. Multiple data collection instruments were developed and
administered throughout the project. It should be remembered, however,
that this research is exploratory, in that very little prior study of the
actual impacts of network connectivity on rural libraries has been done.
It was also both formative and summative, in that data gathered over the
course of the project were used for mid-course corrections as well as for a
final assessment.

The following research questions were established during Phase 2 and
were intended to direct the development and administration of the various
data collection instruments:

o What is the value of network connectivity for rural libraries?

o How does the installation and use of a network connection have
impact on library staff, organization, and service provision?

o What groups in the user community benefit from the network
connection, and why?

o Do demographic characteristics of the user community, if any,
influence the success or failure of implementing a network connection in
a particular setting?

o How can a network of rural libraries be established and maintained?

o What are critical success factors for integrating network connectivity
into rural libraries' provision of services?

o Are there models to describe the integration of network connectivity
into rural libraries?

The project also expected to examine such questions as what difference has
access to the network made in the provision of library services, are the
benefits of networked information services worth the cost, and are librarians'
skills and ability to provide services improved by access to networked
information.

 

Key Variables

In an attempt to focus our observations during the evaluation, the
variables listed below were provisionally identified as being potentially
significant in determining the success or failure of integrating networked
resources into rural library services. While this list is by no means
exhaustive, the evaluation team felt that gathering data pertaining to these
variables would be especially important for the study:

o Support: technical advice and problem solving provided by
NYSERNet staff and others.

o Training: group and individual instruction in the use of computers,
networking tools, and resources.

o Network Knowledge: participants' familiarity with and ability to use
network tools, resources, and understand related issues.

o Computer Knowledge: participants' familiarity with and ability to
use computers and software successfully.

o Costs: money spent to establish, support, maintain, and use the
network connection and resources.

o Benefits: advantages and/or improvements in services gained by the
library and community as a result of the network connection.

o Effort: amount of participants' time spent learning about and using
network connection.

o Usefulness: practical applications of network resources and tools for
the day to day operation of the library.

o Enthusiasm: participants' level of interest in and time devoted to
using the network connection.

o Roles: a menu of descriptions of library services and activities from
which the library selects those most important or useful for the
community.

The attempt to identify, define, operationalize, and determine sources of
data for these variables forced the evaluation team to consider which
variables were most important to investigate. The process also
demonstrated the difficulty that would be encountered in obtaining data to
describe all these variables. Additional research is still required to better
define and operationalize key variables.

 

Data Collection Methods

A variety of data collection methods were used. In this way, the
researchers were able to assess program activities from a number of different
perspectives. In addition, multiple data collection techniques were intended
to enhance the validity of the data gathered. The appendix contains a set of
the various data collection instruments used in this study. Data collection
methods included:

o Structured Telephone Interviews: These interviews were part of the
selection process for candidate libraries, rather than part of the evaluation
proper, but useful background data was gathered.

o Training Needs Assessment: Prior to the June 14 training session, a
needs assessment survey was mailed to the participants. Background
data on participants' level of expertise/comfort with computers and
networking was gathered, and the training was designed in response to
needs indicated by the survey.

o Training Evaluation Form: Following the June 14 training session, all
participants filled out an evaluation form assessing the training. This
allowed follow-up training sessions to be modified on the basis of
feedback from participants.

o Baseline and Endpoint Questionnaires: At the beginning and end of
the project, data were gathered from library staff and users who were
working on implementing Project GAIN. These questionnaires provided
a range of participants' views on a number of issues and topics.

o Background Demographic Data: A limited amount of background
demographic data, using existing data resources, was gathered for each
community. These data were helpful in describing the context in which
the various libraries operated. They also assisted the evaluation team in
identifying any unique conditions at one site that may not have been
present at other sites.

o Service Support Log: Staff at NYSERNet maintained a record of the
various types of support that they provided to the participants and time
required to provide the support. The purpose of the log was to obtain a
description of the types of support provided as well as the frequency of
that support.

o Email Correspondence: NYSERNet staff received email from
participants related to the project which they saved to a separate file.
This correspondence provided an important source of user-based
information.

o Focus Group Session: The librarians were asked to select a group of
users willing to participate in a focus group. A focus group was held on
November 29, 1993, in Liverpool, NY. Two staff representatives and one
user from each site were asked to participate. Data gathered from this
session were used to assess the impact of the network connection on
library staff and organization.

o Site Visits: At least one site visit was conducted for each participating
institution, during which a member of the evaluation team gathered
observational data and provided follow-up training. Both library staff
and users participated in the roundtable discussions which were a part of
the site visit.

o Logs of Network Use: As a condition of their participation in the
project, librarians were asked to keep logs of how they actually used their
network connections and were encouraged to add comments regarding
problems, successes, etc.

o Analysis of Network Use: Since participants in the project were using
accounts on NYSERNet's server for their email, it was possible for the
system administrator to provide the evaluation team with a tally of the
quantity of email traffic, both incoming and outgoing, on these accounts.
The distribution of traffic on the various accounts provided one
indication of the depth of penetration of network use in the various
libraries.

McClure (1994) describes these approaches in greater detail and discusses
their strengths and weakness, thus, they will not be repeated here.

The evaluation team realized that the data collection strategy was
ambitious. But in planning the evaluation, it was believed that this was a
unique opportunity to assess the process of the libraries getting connected to
and using the Internet. Thus, much effort went into designing, pretesting,
and administering the instruments -- as well as into data entry and analysis.
As a result, at times, the study team found itself with more data than it
could analyze effectively.

Plan Versus Reality

During the planning stage (Phase 2) of the project, the study team
developed an ambitious evaluation plan. Figure 3 describes an overview of
the initial plan. Over the course of the project, the evaluation team was
forced to scale back from this plan in the following areas:

o The second round of evaluation and training site visits, except in two
cases, had to be canceled due to lack of time.

o The midpoint survey was also dropped for the same reason.

o The intended focus groups with library staff and users at each site
were consolidated into the November 29 focus group meeting for two
staff and one user from each site.

We also found that the email traffic from the sites was a useful source of
data. We therefore added an analysis of this email traffic to our evaluation
plan. Figure 4 describes the revised evaluation plan, which offered a more
realistic set of activities given the resources and time available for the
evaluation.

In fact, the study team was unable to completely analyze data from
transaction logs and other data collection instruments due to lack of time
and staff. Others who are planning on evaluating projects similar to the one
described here need to realistically estimate the time required for the
various tasks involved in implementing and evaluating the project.

 

Analysis of Data

A range of methods were employed to analyze data from the various data
collection instruments. Quantitative data from the questionnaires, logs,
training assessment, etc. were coded and entered in a spreadsheet for
analysis. The techniques used to analyze these data relied primarily on
computing averages and frequencies. Some cross-tabulations among
variables also were employed. But the quality and nature of the data did not
warrant sophisticated statistical tests.

Qualitative data from the site visits, the focus group sessions, and open-
ended questions on the various surveys were analyzed by members of the
study team first by producing a written summary of the data. In the case of
the focus group, for example, each member of the study team took notes.
The notes were organized by the research questions, key themes, or issues.
The notes were then compiled, reviewed, and refined by other members of
the study team until agreement was reached regarding the results.

Because data were collected from different instruments regarding the
same research questions and issues, the study team incorporated findings
from both the qualitative and quantitative data analysis together. This
process was accomplished by organizing the various datasets in terms of
topics suggested by the research questions, the key variables, or other
themes as they evolved in the study. In general, the study team found the
qualitative data to be much more useful in addressing the research
questions.

 

Quality of Data Issues

A variety of data collection techniques and instruments were used over
the course of the evaluation. This variety allowed a triangulation on
common themes that emerged from the various data collection activities.
For example, the study team obtained data describing project impacts from
the focus group session, from the site visit, email correspondence, and from
the final survey instrument. From this process we were able to compare
responses to judge the reliability and validity of those data.

The evaluation team gathered both quantitative and qualitative data. We
found that for this sort of project, the qualitative data were actually more
valid and useful than the quantitative. The ability to probe and conduct
follow-up questions in the focus group session and at the site visits were
especially powerful. Traditional quantitative techniques did not lend
themselves to a situation like that of Project GAIN, with a small, diverse
group of sites, where participants at the end differed significantly from
those at the beginning. As an example, the population of librarians and
community participants at the end of the evaluation period differed
significantly from that at the beginning, thus, direct comparisons between
Baseline and Endpoint Surveys were impossible.

 

Questionnaires

We spent a great deal of time designing, pretesting/refining,
administering, and analyzing various questionnaires. The open-ended
questions on the endpoint questionnaire provided very useful information,
but responses on other parts of the questionnaire were less helpful. The
study team found the site visits, email correspondence, and focus group to
be much more valuable than a questionnaire in terms of finding out what
was happening at the various sites.

The site visits, where the investigator met staff and users in their context,
allowed the evaluation team to more accurately gauge the overall status of
the project and identify successes and problems than any of our
questionnaires. A mutual learning process took place, where the evaluator
could provide follow-up training and also learn from users what information
needs they had.

Similarly, the November 29 Focus Group allowed several members of the
evaluation team to engage in dialogue with representatives of all the sites,
and allowed participants from various sites to share ideas with each other.
Were the evaluation to be designed again, the study team would recommend
greater reliance on the focus group sessions, on-site visits, email
correspondence, and training assessments.

 

Network Logs

We had also planned to have the sites send in logs of their network use
electronically on a weekly basis. After reflection, however, we decided that
a print log was the only way we could capture data from all those who were
using the system, since we couldn't expect all users to master all the steps
involved in keeping and transmitting an electronic log.

Quality of record keeping for these handwritten logs varied greatly. We
had asked participants to log all network use over the course of the project,
from the time they initially installed and began to use their equipment until
October 31. The first batch of logs were collected during the site visits in
July and August, and a second (final) batch was mailed to the evaluators
after October 31.

In retrospect, the evaluation team feels that asking participants to
continuously log their network use led to less than thorough completion of
the logs, limiting the quality and usefulness of the data gathered. We would
recommend that logs be used for short, clearly delimited periods of time, to
get "snapshots" of network use. We also suspect that richer data could be
gathered by asking participants to keep journals or diaries of their network
use, rather than by the standardized (and somewhat constraining) format of
our Network Logs.

 

Email Correspondence

The regular and informal email correspondence among the participants
and between the evaluation study team and the participants proved to be
very rich information for purposes of the evaluation. In the process of
developing and implementing the project, comments from the participants
provided assessments of specific products and resources. The number of
electronic transactions, however, was substantial. The study team spent
considerable time reviewing, organizing, and assessing this correspondence
in terms of the various research questions.

 

Weekly Reports

Midway through the project, we asked participants to begin sending a
brief email message on a weekly basis describing how they had been using
their connection. These messages were sent to a GAIN "reflector," which
forwarded the messages to all participants in the project. This turned out to
be one of the most useful and popular aspects of the project, from both an
evaluation and implementation perspective. Participants universally praised
the information sharing among the sites that resulted and wished this aspect
of the project had been begun sooner.

From an evaluation and project management standpoint, these weekly
messages brought us closer to what might be called real time evaluation.
While obviously not foolproof, they did provide the evaluation team with a
"window" into what was happening at each site. This allowed us to think
about what might be a constructive "next step" in terms of implementation
and to accumulate information on the status of the project at each site for
evaluation purposes.

By contrast, our Endpoint Survey, while gathering valuable data, did not
allow a comprehensive cataloging of the many varied activities carried out
using the network over the course of the project. This sort of information is
much better gathered in real time throughout the project.

 

Summary

The study team found that its carefully constructed questionnaires were
much less useful than we had expected, while the email reports, focus group
session, individual contacts via phone and the net, and site visits were more
useful. We would strongly recommend that future projects that involve a
small number of heterogeneous sites place a greater emphasis on site visits
and regular real-time communication than on questionnaires.

The various data collection instruments, reprinted in the Appendices, are
those used in the study. Readers considering an evaluation of networking
activities such as those described in this report may be able to modify these
instruments for similar assessments. Careful thought and pretesting,
however, should be used in modifying these instruments as they were
designed specifically for Project GAIN and to assess specific aspects of this
project.

 

FINDINGS
________

A number of repeating themes surfaced throughout the data produced by
the various data collection instruments. To avoid redundancy and improve
readability, this section is organized by those key themes and not by the
instruments or the key variables identified earlier.

It must be emphasized that the evaluation period was brief,
approximately six months. The participants have expressed some concern
regarding the cutoff date for the evaluation. Because of the learning curve
involved, the ripple effect of many positive impacts is just beginning to
occur. Some participants believe they are just beginning to effectively
utilize their connection and hope that readers will understand that if they
were able to do this much in such a short period of time, they will be able
to do much more in the future.

As a general overview, participants completing the endpoint survey rated
the overall success of the project so far as a 2.0 on a scale of 1-4 defined
as follows: 1 equals extremely successful, 2 equals successful, 3 equals
somewhat successful, and 4 equals unsuccessful. The same participants
rated the current level of interest and enthusiasm for the project at their
site overall as a 1.6 and the current level of enthusiasm for the project on
the part of the library's upper management as a 1.5 on a scale of 1-4 defined
as follows: 1 equals extremely enthusiastic, 2 equals enthusiastic, 3 equals
somewhat enthusiastic, and 4 equals unenthusiastic. As the following
quotes indicate, enthusiasm can be defined several ways:

With each success, the realities and potentialities of the Internet are
talked about in the community, raising the level of awareness. I would
describe our site as having several levels of enthusiasm: those who are
enthusiastic because they have realized the Internet's potentialities and
those who are enthusiastic because they know the potentialities exist.

People involved in the project are more or less equally split between
those who are enthusiastic about the system as they understand and use
it and those who are enthusiastic about its potential down the road.

The remainder of this section is structured as follows: impacts from the
project on the libraries, impacts on the local communities, impacts on the
Internet community, lessons learned, and critical success factors.
Throughout, original quotes have been used wherever possible to allow the
participants to speak for themselves.

 

Impacts on the Libraries

Participants completing the endpoint survey rated the impact that the
connection had on the library as a 1.6 on a scale of 1-5 defined as follows:
1 equals had a positive impact on my library and 5 equals had no impact on
my library. As the following themes attest, the Internet connection had a
significant, transforming effect on the libraries' operations and provision of
services.

 

The Internet as "Super Tool"

Having access to the Internet gave the libraries another tool to use to
satisfy patron requests. But this particular tool, the Internet, provided
combined access to a range of resources that otherwise could not be acquired
in their particular settings. Thus, a key impact of the Internet was to
significantly expand the range and scope of information resources available
to the library, for both reference work and staff and patron browsing.

 

Enhancing Credibility and Leadership

Because of the Internet connection, community members, including
children, regarded the library very differently than before they were
connected. The libraries gained a leadership role and considerable
credibility in their communities. Community members saw the public
library as a very innovative, progressive place providing services not
available elsewhere; moreover, these services were often seen as very "high
tech" services. In some instances, certain community members were
surprised that it was actually the library providing such services! As one
participant commented:

The library is increasingly seen as a community resource center rather
than just a place for fiction and arts and crafts books.

As is consistent with the public library's education mission, at several sites
the library became an education center for other institutions in the
community. At one site in particular, the local school got its own connection
after a parent who championed the cause was introduced to the Internet by
the library.

Success stories regarding satisfied patrons can translate into leverage for
additional funding since the library is then seen as an integral part of the
community. Two librarians commented:

Not unimportantly, our local funding sources are beginning to see the
library as a vital information center rather than just a repository for the
latest best-seller. I have attended the village and town board meetings,
and without fail, board members literally sit up and take notice when I
relate anecdotes about the project. I see the network connection as a vital
resource in maintaining the library's viability in an increasingly changing
and technological world.

We received a budget increase in our town funding because the monthly
presentations to the Board emphasized how the connection was helping
the citizens become better informed.

These, and similar success stories, suggest increased credibility, visibility,
and impact on the local community.

 

Library Advocates and Attracting New Users

The connection also brought new patrons into the library, computer
literate people who then became library advocates:

The status of the library may be transformed to a higher plane in some
peoples' eyes as I had mentioned above with the computer literate
population. And perhaps in some institutions' eyes as well. Herkimer
County Community College visited the library to discuss the possibility
of using Old Forge as an extension site. I used the Internet
demonstration as the grand finale of my tour, and they were most
impressed.

Such results were common among the participants and contributed greatly
to increasing the credibility and importance of the library.

One of the unexpected results of the libraries obtaining network
connectivity was that community members who had previously not been
regular users of the library were attracted to it as a result of their hearing
about the library's network connection. This fact, that new library patrons
came, as one librarian stated, "out of the woodwork," once word got out that
the library had an Internet connection, suggests that network connectivity
can attract new customers to the library. It is quite likely that the number
of patrons who would be attracted to the library as a network access point
will grow in the future, which suggests that network access is a service for
which demand exists and the library can meet.

 

Keeping Abreast of New Technology

This project served as a wake-up call to the libraries, illustrating the
critical importance of keeping in step with the information technology that
increasingly permeates and fundamentally alters our lives. The participants
noted:

The presence of the Internet connection has forced the Board of Trustees
to carefully consider not only the library's role as a technology/
information leader in the community, but also to think about how to fund
that role. This exercise in long-range planning has had a positive effect
not only on the Board but on the library as a whole.

The participation in this project has forced the director to reconsider the
role of the public library in the "Information Age." Can libraries,
especially rural libraries, continue to be the information and reference
centers for their communities? I believe this network connection is one
way of reaching that goal.

Until the connection was in place and the librarians, trustees, and
community members could "see" the difference that the new technology
could make on services, it was very difficult for them to recognize the
importance and use of the technology.

 

Professional Development

In little time, the librarians learned how to use the net for their own
professional development, staying abreast of current issues and talking to
colleagues worldwide about problems and topics of mutual interest. The
librarians subscribed to a variety of professional discussion groups: PUBLIB
(devoted to issues of all kinds facing public libraries), PUBYAC (devoted to
the interests of young adults' and children's librarians), KIDLIT (devoted to
children's literature), and CONSERVATION DISTLIST (devoted to
conservation and preservation issues), to name a few. Said one librarian:

The access has been invaluable in my professional development, and this
has directly impacted all patrons in a positive way, regardless of whether
they used the access directly or not.

One of the sites was in the planning process for the construction of a new
library, and they used PUBLIB to solicit information about the pros and cons
of installing skylights and to solicit examples of publicity that had
resulted in successful public referendums for bond issues. Several of the
librarians began an email dialogue with rural libraries in the state of
Washington participating in a project similar to GAIN called SMILE. As one
librarian said, "The realization of simultaneous uniqueness and similarities
among rural libraries so far apart was a wondrous thing."

 

Improved Reference

The ability to fulfill reference requests improved significantly. A librarian
at one of the sites recounted some of her success stories in response to a
posting requesting Internet reference success stories. Later, GNN News, a
component of the Global Network Navigator online information center
provided by O'Reilly & Associates, contacted her for permission to reprint
them in a future issue.

As a whole, the libraries needed to make fewer referrals to larger libraries.
In fact, another librarian managed to locate an elusive article from an 1870
newspaper held in a distant university archives, despite the fact that two
local major universities had been unable to help the patron, and she had this
to say about it:

I will tell you that there are few feelings to match the pride, joy, and
headiness that I felt when I put that article into his hands. The joy on his
face was pretty special, too. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK
YOU, for enabling me to experience this sense of professional and
personal pride and for allowing our little library to have the capability to
provide this service. I'm on cloud nine!

Several of the sites used a listserv called STUMPERS, which is designed to
provide a forum for seeking and providing answers to difficult reference
questions. The turnaround time using this method is far superior to that of
submitting questions to other traditional sources.

The commercial databases donated by OCLC databases -- ArticleFirst and
ContentsFirst -- as well as ERIC, GPO, WorldCat, and MEDLINE were very
popular. Access to and use of these resources contributed greatly to the
participants' view that a broad range of information resources could be
obtained via the Internet and used successfully during the reference process.

 

The Public Library as Electronic Matchmaker

Another interesting theme was the evolving role of the library as
electronic matchmaker. In this role, the library is able to refer patrons to
others on the network, either to specific individuals or by posting a query to
a discussion group, to help with a question. The connection allows a patron
to discuss his or her information needs directly with others on the Internet.

Clearly, libraries have always done referral services. But this type of
referral allows the librarian to say, "I have no idea how to answer that
question or who to put you in contact with, but let's post the query to the
network." An initial contact on the net may refer a patron to yet another
contact. One of the participants related an example of this that involved,
eventually, a contact in Australia. This is a new model of reference help.
As one patron commented:

"The Internet should be viewed as a gigantic people resource even above a
large computer resource. In this sense, the net extends the ability of a
library to provide access to information in a way that most people are
very comfortable with: asking questions and getting answers. To a
certain extent the library has always done this, but the net gives options
like Usenet which are orders of magnitude more informed than any small
group of people could be."

For rural libraries, largely isolated from many information sources taken for
granted at other libraries, this role is an important one for linking their
communities to the larger world.

 

Increased Interlibrary Loans

With access to a large number of online public access catalogs and other
bibliographic databases, both the librarians and the users found themselves
requesting significantly more materials via interlibrary loan. In one case,
the librarian was convinced that interlibrary loan requests doubled as a
result of access to the Internet. One librarian commented that, "I had to
have my custodial person start doing interlibrary loan requests!" She also
pointed out that her workload increased significantly.

This impact was double-edged. On the one hand the library staff were
pleased that users were accessing a broader range of information resources
from remote locations. On the other hand, the increase in workload was
substantial in a number of cases -- and there was not additional staff
available to handle this workload. A number of the participants commented
that access to and use of the Internet provided second-level impacts on
increasing workloads -- interlibrary loan being just one of those areas.

 

Plenty of Resources on the Net for Public Librarians

One librarian commented that she was "amazed to find the breadth and
depth of information that was available via the Internet of use for my
community and for me." Others agreed. This statement is an important one
as there are still a number of public librarians who are unconvinced that
there is much "out there" that would assist them in their library work. The
participants also commented, however, that plenty of additional types of
information resources and services still need to be provided.

But such comments as "The Internet doubled my reference collection," or
"the Internet gave me an entirely new collection of materials that I never
had, specifically government and medical information" give testimony to the
power of the net to provide "just in time" collections as opposed to "just in
case collections" -- the latter being what some public libraries currently
have.

However, it must be clear that the Internet does not totally replace all
other sources of information. In fact, it is sometimes not the best source
in a particular situation, as the following quote illustrates:

Of course, this is something librarians do day in and day out --
comparing information sources for utility and cost-effectiveness. Many
of the things for which we COULD use the Internet can be provided by
strategies that we already have in place, strategies that seem more
economical, time- and money-wise.

It was also recognized that access to and use of these additional resources
was not "free" after the connection was in place -- there still were long
distance telecommunications charges for access, and the time needed to
download information also contributed to these costs. But others
commented that the access was "free" in the sense that it was not charged
against the library's book budget.

 

Increased Workloads for the Librarians:
How to Balance Job Responsibilities

All participants agreed that the Internet connection resulted in a range of
increased workloads and time demands in the following areas:

o Learning and experimenting with the new computer hardware and
software

o Learning and experimenting with the new Internet tools and
resources as well as reading and answering email

o Providing Internet training for staff and patrons

o Demonstrating the Internet to interested community groups and
individuals

o Handling increased interlibrary loan activity

o Receiving additional reference and referral requests as a result of
being "known" on the net

One person commented that while the Internet was wonderful, it constantly
demanded her attention, time, and patience.

Indeed, the increased time commitments to the Internet did not reduce or
eliminate other job responsibilities. Librarians still had books to
circulate, story-time to tell, and reference questions to answer. In short,
the availability of Internet services increased business and required
significant additional time commitments from the librarians while all the
other "traditional" services had to be continued.

There was little resolution of the question "What can we stop doing if we
are going to be spending time on the Internet?" One person commented that
the question was better framed as "How do we use the Internet resources
and services that we provide as a reason for obtaining increased staff and
funding?"

 

Impacts on the Local Communities

As was the case with the libraries themselves, the Internet connection had
a positive effect on the members, both individually and collectively, of the
communities they serve. Participants completing the endpoint survey rated
the impact that the connection had on the community as a 2.2 on a scale of 1-
5 defined as follows: 1 equals had a positive impact on my community and 5
equals had no impact on my community.

A wide range of constituencies used the resources and services on the
Internet -- students of all kinds (K-12, college, and continuing education),
local government, community organizations, businesses, and the general
public -- suggesting that the Internet has something to offer everyone. One
patron stated:

I don't think there is a person with a brain and a heartbeat that wouldn't
find the network very useful and interesting in one form or another. I
believe the network is essentially in its infancy. And when it develops
from crawling to running, its uses and usefulness will be endless.

In short, the participants were impressed with the opportunities that the
connection provided them to better integrate the library into the community.

 

Partnering with the Public Schools

Some of the biggest supporters of the libraries' Internet connections came
from K-12 school teachers, who are using the Internet to transform both
teaching and learning. A number of teachers are using the resources and
services provided by AskERIC, an Internet-based program run by Syracuse
University as part of the ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center)
system managed by the U.S. Department of Education.

AskERIC provides human intermediaries who answer email questions to
<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> on education-related topics by consulting the ERIC
database and by referring the patron to other resources, both Internet- and
print-based. In addition, AskERIC maintains an electronic library filled with
all sorts of resources, including a large volume of lesson plans; pathfinders
to numerous network resources; bibliographies, digests, and mini-searches on
various topics; and pointers to other education-related services.

At the GAIN sites, the lesson plans were extremely popular, as were
electronic library entries regarding current research and practice on various
topics:

From AskERIC I have also made contact with the services provided by
Skywatch (astronomy information) and Newton's Apple. These are all
resources I could not have obtained anywhere else in the area.

Once the teachers became aware of the applications and uses of the Internet,
they developed a number of projects and programs, and more are being
planned, to integrate the Internet into classroom instruction.

For example, one library is providing background information from
listservs and newsgroups for a joint project with the middle school and local
university to teach middle school students Japanese. At another site, the
seventh grade social studies class is using the Internet for its project on
current events and issues entitled "Clash of Issues." In a letter that the
school sent to the library, the principal and two teachers speak about the
positive impact that Internet access has already had and will continue to
have on the lives of the children (see Appendix L).

A number of keypal programs (like a pen pal but over the Internet) with
students across the country and the world are in operation, allowing the
students to share experiences with their peers firsthand and fostering a
global perspective and understanding. "My students do numerous projects
on people from other countries and cultures. This will be an opportunity to
have instant and current contact with these people."

One site has a keypal project with New Zealand. As the students were
exchanging information about their height and weight, it was necessary for
them to convert kilos and meters into pounds and feet. Thus, the exchange
provided the opportunity to apply math skills in real-time and in a real
problem-solving context that was relevant and interesting to the children.

As a result of these projects, the students perceive the library very
differently from before. In the words of one teacher, "The kids now say, 'The
library is awesome!'" Such a view of libraries is important for stimulating
and nurturing children's development and for laying the foundation for
lifelong learning at an early stage of their lives.

Thus, the impact here was tying the libraries directly into local K-12
programs. Such collaboration was seen very positively by local governing
boards and funding units. At the moment, this collaboration seems to be
based largely on the fact that network access is a scarce resource. However,
as connectivity becomes more ubiquitous, the schools, libraries, and indeed
other community entities will need to explore how their combined strengths
can be developed for maximum benefit to their communities. The ground
has been broken for the building of community networks.

 

Economic Development

At one site, an employee from the county finance office is using the
Internet extensively for an economic development project. In particular, the
county is targeting a specific industry and is using various resources on the
net to assemble all sorts of information. The employee obtained current
international trade information from the U.S. Department of Commerce
Economic Bulletin Board. If the same information had been obtained as a
print publication, it would have been less current and would have cost
money to obtain. A listserv dedicated to the subject of interest gave
extensive listings of relevant manufacturers, associations, publications,
contact names, and phone numbers not available from any other single
source.

The county finance office is also using several other sources of electronic
information dedicated to economic development in the rural areas. A new
electronic journal, RURALUSA, contains the most recent edition of Rural
Conditions and Trends from USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) as
well as ERS reports concerning rural issues.

A listserv entitled ECON-DEV, run by the Economic Development
Department in Littleton, CO, fosters the "gardening" concept of economic
development, i.e., growing jobs locally, with strategic information as the
cornerstone of its program. It focuses on the "best practices, best
technology, and best ideas," including management strategies for a high
performance workplace.

At another GAIN site, instruction about the Internet has been integrated
into the community computer literacy class, thereby expanding the level of
computer and network literacy in the workforce. Several sites are havens for
writers, and the net could be of economic advantage to the areas, since the
writers are using it for research. Patrons have also accessed the Small
Business Administration's online bulletin board system.

 

Access to Government Information

Providing citizens with access to government information so that they can
be an informed electorate is an important role for the public library. But
rural public libraries rarely have the budget to acquire Federal information
resources. Nor are they likely to be depository libraries for the Government
Printing Office. But recently, a great deal of government information has
been made available via the Internet (Ryan, 1994). In addition, current plans
by the Clinton Administration will place much more information on the
Internet (Office of the President, Creating a Government that Works Better &
Costs Less, 1993b).

One person commented that having electronic access to a range of
government information was like having a whole additional reference
service. In a number of instances, information was obtained that otherwise
would have required a trip to a law or a Government Printing Office
depository library.

Patrons were able to monitor the bill-sponsoring activity of the local
Congressmen using LOCIS and track pending legislation using MARVEL
through the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Patrons were also able
to keep abreast of current Federal activities, such as agency appointments,
and were able to download full-text versions of a variety of government
documents: NAFTA, National Performance Review, Health Security Plan,
Family and Medical Leave Act, Supreme Court decisions, federal laws, and
White House press releases and speeches. Increasingly, more government
information and services will be made available over the Internet (Congress,
1993).

 

Access to Health and Medical Information

Patrons consulted extensively various sources of health and medical
information, particularly MEDLINE, on a variety of topics, such as diabetes,
lip infections, neurological conditions, sleep apnea, giardiasis, nutrition
information, and the side effects of a particular medication. In fact,
MEDLINE was one of the most popular resources at several sites, and the
sites lost the interest of some users when the trial period provided by OCLC
expired.

Providing citizens with ready access to quality health and medical
information is certainly congruent with the current emphasis on health-care
reform. For these rural public libraries, access to these sources of
information would not have been possible were it not for their connections.
Moreover, it was information that was of special interest to and used by the
community.

 

Enhanced Sense of Community

As was the case with students, adult patrons had numerous national and
international keypals. For example, participants at two sites had keypals in
Moscow with whom they were sharing information about their lives, their
cultures, and perspectives on world events. This direct person-to-person
contact does much to foster better worldwide communication and
understanding.

At another site, a patron was able to locate a Usenet support group for
adult survivors of child abuse, thereby alleviating her sense of pain and
isolation.

A number of community members made contact with other individuals
electronically that otherwise could not have occurred. The sense of
community that such contact provided was important not only for what it
meant to the individuals, but also for the library that provided the
mechanism by which that enhanced sense of community occurred.

In a time of increasing fragmentation, such human connections are
essential to establish a sense of local, national, and global unity. How
fitting that a community organization, the public library, should be the
instrument by which such connections can be made.

 

Lifelong Learning

Numerous participants spoke about how the Internet had heightened or
awakened new interest in various subjects. The following quote captures the
essence of this theme succinctly: "My horizons are certainly being expanded
beyond the vanishing point. SET THE CONTROLS FOR THE SUN!"
Support for lifelong learning is a traditional role for the public library.
The Internet connection enhanced and supported that role. Moreover, this role
will take on increased importance as the Federal government moves forward
with its plans to connect the country electronically with the National
Information Infrastructure initiative (Office of the President, 1993a).

 

Impacts on the Internet Community

As illustrated above, the GAIN sites have benefited tremendously from
being connected to the Internet. But it is equally important to note that the
Internet community has benefited as well from having the GAIN sites
connected.

 

Information Provider

The sites have been active participants in various electronic discussion
groups, responding to queries and engaging in exchanges of information and
ideas. A local zoning officer was able to answer a question regarding
economic conditions in the Adirondacks. One librarian was especially
pleased that she had been able to direct a question from a librarian "at a
large, well-known urban library" to the correct source.

 

Building Virtual Communities

As discussed earlier, students are actively engaged in various keypal
programs. For example, students at the Onondaga Nation School are
corresponding with students in New Zealand, Oregon, and Colorado, giving
these distant students the opportunity to have direct contact with Native
American peoples. The notion of virtual communities, i.e., communities
that are connected by ideas and interest rather than by geographic area, was
of great interest in these libraries. Providing a means for community
members to participate in a "virtual community" was seen as a major benefit
for community individuals.

 

Literacy

One of the most profound effects of Project GAIN involves adult literacy.
The library director at Morrisville Public Library is a volunteer tutor for
an adult literacy program. She has been working with a 51 year old gentleman
named Glenn for four years. Glenn could not read a single sentence when
they began their work together, and he has made marvelous progress.

Only three months after Project GAIN commenced, Glenn and his tutor
sent a posting to PUBLIB, inquiring as to whether other adult learners would
like to correspond with Glenn via the net and asking whether any discussion
group existed for such a purpose. They also indicated that if no such group
existed, they would like to start one if enough people were interested (see
Appendix M).

The response to this posting was tremendous, with people from all over
the country registering their votes in favor of this idea. The end result was
not one, but two, listservs, sponsored by NYSERNet and moderated by the
tutor, which are scheduled to be launched March 1, 1994.

LEARNER is a forum which gives adult learners the opportunity and the
motivation to practice their reading and writing skills by corresponding with
each other. It also serves as a support structure, building self-confidence
and allowing learners to share personal experiences, concerns, frustrations,
successes, and helpful tips. This medium gives learners the chance to
improve their traditional literacy, computer literacy, and network literacy
skills at the same time (see Appendix N).

LITERACY is a discussion group for individuals involved in teaching
adults to read and write or for individuals concerned with literacy issues in
general. The group is designed to encourage the sharing of personal
experiences, ideas, helpful resources, and teaching tools and tips (see
Appendix O).

Glenn is currently corresponding individually via the net with three
people from the Adult Learning Center in Missouri who share remarkably
similar circumstances and interests. According to his tutor, "The potential
for improvement is incalculable. Glenn has made more significant gains in
the past several months than he had for quite a while." The following quote
eloquently captures the spirit and impact of this project:

That single serendipitous and, for Glenn, courageous step that we took
that one night as a tutor and learner has been one of the most beneficial,
meaningful, and indeed truly beautiful and magical events of this whole
project.

The isolation and frustration of an adult who has taken that giant leap to
learn to read is especially amplified in a rural environment. For a farmer
who could not even read one single sentence a few years ago to have the
courage and desire to put a request for friendship and understanding out
to the whole world via the net is one of the most brave and selfless acts I
have ever witnessed. I am humbled by Glenn's courage and am honored
to be his tutor. His request for a discussion and dialogue has resulted in
so many good and wonderful things that an entire book would not
suffice.

Each email message sent and received shows such growing and learning
and the seeds of friendship sprouting. The one Glenn received today
literally brought tears of joy to my eyes. His spelling has improved
remarkably, and his reading and writing skills have taken on a new
dimension.

NYSERNet's offer to sponsor our listservs is a true blessing to all of those
learners who have been so alone for so long in their struggle. It is hoped
that these discussion groups will bring about that same feeling of global
community that the net has brought to so many others.

This real life example of impacts of connectivity in the area of literacy is
significant as it is an unanticipated benefit from connectivity. No one on
the project team could have predicted that this type of impact would occur.
One wonders what other types of impacts will result that cannot be foreseen.

 

Electronic Access to Local Information

Several other sites also have projects of interest to the Internet community
in the pipeline. The Onondaga Nation School has plans to put digital images
of Native American children's art on the NYSERNet gopher. The Woodstock
library plans to compile a "Great Stories from Woodstock" collection to
commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival by
broadcasting a call for stories on the Internet.

The Chautauqua Institute is a world-renowned summer education
association in Chautauqua, NY, whose mission is to promote lifelong
learning in all forms. The Institute has plans to create an extensive
Chautauqua Information Center on the NYSERNet gopher. The Center will
provide general information about the Chautauqua Movement as well as
specific information about the various programs of study and the summer
schedule.

 

Summary

Project GAIN has helped to give rural areas a legitimacy in the eyes of
others by illustrating that they have much to contribute to networked
information resources and services. Without the Internet, others wouldn't
have access to their knowledge, expertise, ideas, and talents. One librarian
stated:

Many people stereotype rural dwellers as 'hayseeds' or 'hicks.' I think
that our participation in this project has shown the world that the rural
environment is full of intelligent, varied, exciting, and interesting people.

In short, not only did the participants identify, access, and use a range of
resources from the Internet, they also contributed back to the network
additional information and services. Indeed, this process is one of the most
significant benefits from promoting such universal access to the Internet.


Lessons Learned

The findings described above provide an overview of the range of impacts
that resulted from network connectivity for these rural public libraries. But
the project also provided both the participants and the study team with a
number of lessons that may be useful for others attempting similar projects.

 

You Cannot Provide Enough Training

The project participants agreed in the focus group session that the training
they received was of high quality and very useful. Figure 5 summarizes the
self-assessment of the participants after completing the June 14 training
session. Participants completing the endpoint survey rated the quality of
training as a 2.0 and the quantity of training as a 2.5 on a scale of 1-4
defined as follows: 1 equals more than adequate, 2 equals adequate, 3 equals
somewhat adequate, and 4 equals inadequate.

But, there simply was not enough training, and it was not sequenced with
what they were learning by hands-on trial and error education. Too much
"hit and miss" activity wasted too much valuable time. Said one participant,
"learning the Internet by trial and error is like learning Library of Congress
classification by trial and error, only worse!"

For this particular project, we were very fortunate to have one individual
at NYSERNet who regularly provided answers to questions via the Internet
and telephone. Indeed, his "netside" approach won the accolades of all
involved. But, a one-day, general training session at the start of the
project, one on-site follow-up training two months later, and on-going
network- and phone-based support was judged as less than adequate by the
participants.

Almost everyone indicated that the initial one-day training should have
been spread over two days to allow for both a slower pace and more in-
depth coverage. The participants also made it clear that NYSERNet should
not have underestimated the lack of computer knowledge and should have
dedicated perhaps a full day to the Macintosh environment alone, given that
several participants had little prior experience using Macs.

In addition, the sites needed much more follow-up training than they
received. While repeated site visits may be logistically impossible, other
delivery mechanisms are certainly viable. There was an almost universal cry
for step-by-step instructions and user manuals. Online and print training
modules and exercises should be developed. One participant suggested a
"resource or skill of the week." Several participants suggested the use of
simulators so that they could practice without running up enormous phone
bills.

Participants were especially hungry for concrete examples and advice
about how to apply their connection in specific contexts. They wanted to
move from a focus on the tools to a focus on resources and programming --
how the Internet can be used by their pluralistic user constituencies. To
maintain interest and motivation in mastering the tools, the point of
acquiring that mastery must be clear.

In addition, people do not have sufficient time available to spend all of
their Internet time navigating. People need navigation aids, at least to the
key resources: what they are, where they are, and how to use them. The
more resource and programming guides the sponsors of a project can give,
the better. This sort of information is critical for successful technology
transfer, defined as fully integrating a technology into an organization's
operations and thereby realizing its potential.

A sobering aspect of this issue is that the participants probably received
more training, and better quality training, than typical public librarians
would currently receive when they obtain network connections on their
own. Thus, the lesson is clear: When trying to move the public library into
the networked environment, training conducted at regular intervals that is
hands-on, sequenced from beginning, to intermediate, to advanced, and
focused on resources and programming ideas as well as navigation tools is
required. In addition, there must be one very knowledgeable person who is
easily accessible to provide ongoing assistance -- and preferably provide
that assistance on site. In short, significant funds must be allocated for
training and support.

Policy makers must be aware that the isolation of rural areas makes it
more difficult to learn how to use networked information resources and
services because there are currently few local people capable of providing
the requisite training and support. In the future, steps will have to be
taken to address this problem.


Support

One of the factors contributing to the success of this project was the
relatively high degree of support available to the participants. The Kaplan
Foundation grant allowed NYSERNet to dedicate significant staff time to
support and project management. Telephone and email support were
extensive, and most problems were resolved within 24 hours of a site's
contacting NYSERNet.

The "human factor" is important in providing support for new users.
That is, it is important to not only resolve the technical problem, but also
to reassure the user that problems are inevitable with the current state of
networking technology, and that they are not "stupid" if they are
encountering problems. This reassurance and encouragement helped the
new users overcome their problems and persist in working on the project.

The support log maintained by NYSERNet through October 31, 1993,
indicates that problems can be categorized in the following way:

o Infrastructure (phone line, POPs, NYSERNet host)

o Macintosh operating system

o Hardware

o Communications software

o Network applications

o Accessing and using network information resources

o Administration.

Participants completing the endpoint survey rated the support they received
as a 1.4 on a scale of 1-4 defined as follows: 1 equals more than adequate, 2
equals adequate, 3 equals somewhat adequate, and 4 equals inadequate.

One of the discoveries made during the course of this project is that our
definition of support needed to be broadened. We defined support as,
"technical advice and problem solving," and this is what was logged as
support by NYSERNet. This definition, however, does not account for the
time spent doing resource discovery in response to specific questions on
resources, nor does it include the large volume of administrative traffic that
in part played a support role, by fostering program development and
providing the participants with the reassurance that was often needed when
obstacles were encountered. When these sorts of support matters are
factored in, a more realistic figure for "support" provided to all the sites
by NYSERNet was 10-12 hours per week.

 

Intrasite Communication

User groups at each of the participating libraries need to be formed and
need to meet regularly. Internal communication among the participants at a
site is very important and needs to be reinforced. This rich reservoir of
shared knowledge and ideas is vital for overcoming obstacles and frustration
and for maintaining momentum. While individuals alone may not feel as if
they are accomplishing much, the aggregate can be quite impressive.

Besides regular meetings of the user groups (which would also include library
staff), a public file in electronic and/or hardcopy format of resources
discovered would be very useful. Over the course of the project, it was
observed that often one person at a site would discover a resource that
would be valuable to other participants, but frequently no established
mechanism was in place for that information to be shared with other
participants. A shared "Resource File" would serve a similar function to
regular meetings, in that knowledge acquired by one could be shared with
others.

Other activities that would be useful for team building as well as
knowledge acquisition would be group participation in the "Internet Hunt,"
or the selection of a particular topic to research, which the group members
would then jointly explore. From the project management standpoint, if
such activities are initiated by the sponsoring organization, care must be
taken to tune these activities to the skill level of the participants, or
frustration and discouragement may result.

Intersite Communication

Mechanisms also need to be established to facilitate intersite
communication and capitalize on the synergy that results from sharing
experiences -- successes, problems, and solutions. This project had a special
mailing list known as the GAIN reflector. Any message sent to this address
was distributed to every email account at every site as well as to the
investigators. However, the reflector was not really used until about half
way through the project. Weekly activity reports and other general
correspondence from each site to the reflector should have been
implemented from the start since they provide excellent cross-fertilization
and motivation in the way of information and idea exchange and also
provide a much needed community support structure to mitigate the
feelings of isolation and frustration.

 

Measuring the Use of the Connection

Despite a range of data collection techniques employed, the study team
was unable to collect accurate data describing the number of times the
participants accessed specific types of Internet resources or used specific
resource discovery tools. The site logs were often not completed and
transaction logs at NYSERNet did not capture direct connections to
resources since study sites had SLIP connections. With SLIP access such
tracking is ineffective, since the site itself becomes a node on the network
and does not need to login to NYSERNet's server to access network
resources via telnet, FTP, or gopher. Short term sampling may produce
better results than the various logs employed in this study.

Further, "counting" the number of times a participant contacted a
particular source or service is complicated by the fact that multiple
activities occur within a given Internet session. Participants found it time
consuming and somewhat frustrating to maintain a detailed log of these
activities. In spite of these difficulties, the data do suggest the following:

o Email within a site is unevenly distributed. One or two accounts tend
to account for much of the traffic at each site, although the degree of
imbalance varies. This suggests that in most cases, network use did not
penetrate evenly in the libraries, but was utilized most extensively by one
or two "champions" at each site.

o With a few exceptions, incoming traffic far exceeded outgoing. This
was to be expected, since participants were encouraged to subscribe to
listservs.

o Total volume of traffic also varied significantly between sites, but
greater volume did not necessarily indicate greater utilization of
networked resources. By other indicators, some of the sites that had a
lesser volume of traffic were actually using their connection more
effectively than others which had a higher volume.

These findings also suggest that each site had different "favorite" sources
and uses of the Internet. These varied from site to site. Additional work,
however, needs to be done to develop data collection methods to better
capture and describe actual uses of the Internet.

 

Barriers

The Endpoint Survey, the November focus group session, and
observations of the evaluation team identified the following as key barriers
impeding the successful use of the Internet at the participating sites:

o Telecommunications Charges. A number of the libraries in the project
were paying $175 - $350 a month in long-distance phone charges because
there was no POP in their local area. The "meter was running" all the
time when they were using the Internet, and the stipends provided by the
grant for the year of the project are already gone at several sites.
Absorbing such an increase per month in the budget could be a
significant problem already for a number of the libraries, and the dollar
figure will undoubtedly be even higher in the future as usage increases.

o Time. As discussed in an earlier section, there simply was not enough
time in the day to maintain the existing services, learn the Internet, and
provide Internet-based services. One librarian even had her custodial
staff doing interlibrary loan paperwork so she could spend time on the
network.

o Training. As discussed in an earlier section, participants felt that they
received only adequate training regarding hardware and software,
navigation tools, and resources and programming.

o Type of Equipment. The equipment grant provided Macintosh
computers. Inevitably, users familiar only with IBM-compatible were in
foreign territory. They had to learn the Macintosh environment before
they could do anything with the Internet. Tying the implementation of
network connectivity to a particular platform results in some users being
faced with learning a new operating system as well as the intricacies of
the Internet. This is a major challenge. Either thorough training needs to
be done regarding the new operating system, or a choice of platforms
needs to be provided.

o Complexity of the Internet. The Internet is still not user-friendly in
many regards. There are inadequate tools and guides to access and use
it, and its organization is often chaotic. Working with it can sometimes
be frustrating and intimidating.

o Access to the Computer. One public access connection to the Internet
proved to be inadequate once community members became aware of the
service. Since no other community organizations had access, everyone
came to the library and had to wait in line. This problem was
compounded by the fact that some of the libraries are not open as many
hours per week as they would like to be because of budget constraints.

o Start Date of the Project. The project began in the summer, which was
a bad time for many sites. Several sites are major summer tourist
attractions, and both staff and patron vacations were a problem as well.
In addition, the schools were not in session.

o Need for Full Text. Staff and patrons were frustrated when they
realized that they could not get full text information from many of the
sources. People expected instant response in getting what they wanted.

In planning future projects such as GAIN, strategies can be developed to
minimize some of these barriers.

 

Continuation of the Connection

By June 1994, the libraries must support their own connectivity since
project money will end. Some strategies the librarians identified for
securing a continuation of the connection were:

o Obtain support from local schools or other community groups. At
one site, a community organization is interested in using the connection
and is willing to donate some funding to help secure its continuation.

o Convince the governing board that additional direct support to the
library is warranted.

o Have the Friends of the Library mount a fund-raising program.

o Obtain grants or awards from the state library or other funding
sources.

o Redeploy monies from other budget categories.

Everyone recognized that, currently, the libraries were woefully
underfunded. Increasing their budgets would require significant lobbying,
skillful use of politics, and good luck. But the enhanced credibility,
visibility, and impacts resulting from the Internet connections would, the
librarians believed, assist them in the process of gaining additional
resources.

 

Critical Success Factors

In reviewing the range of findings from the project, the evaluation team
considers the following factors critical to successfully integrating network
connectivity into the provision of rural libraries' services.

o Training and Assistance from a Sponsor. There needs to be someone
or something that the library can rely on for a range of training and
assistance for both staff and patrons. Were it not for the training and the
online assistance provided in this project, many of the participants would
not have been able to use the Internet successfully.

Recognizing that a sponsor obviously cannot train every staff member
and patron, the participants suggested that "train the trainer" sessions
would be helpful to prepare them to train others. Additionally, one
participant suggested that the sites develop a pool of trained volunteers
who can help to teach patrons. Students who had themselves been
trained might well be a solution here. Serving as volunteer Internet
trainers would further their interest in learning and promote their self-
esteem while instilling the ethic of volunteerism and community service.

o Strong Commitment and a Positive Attitude. There must be a strong
commitment from both the library board and the staff, with a recognition
that return on investment will take some time because of the learning
curve. Librarians must be willing to experiment and must not be afraid
of the technology. Although it is easy to get frustrated, persistence,
patience, and fortitude when learning the net are essential.

o Face-to-Face Contact as well as Virtual Contact. While it is impossible
to measure, the evaluation team feels that a factor that contributed to the
success of the project was the fact that participants met each other face to
face, as well as virtually over the Internet. The training session,
NYSERNet Conference, and final focus group meeting provided
opportunities for the participants to get to know one another, share
information, and discuss programs and successes. Both types of contact
are important to build a sense of team.

o Adequate Time and Personnel. Adequate time and personnel must be
allocated to learning and using this new service. A concern with starting
up new projects in any library is what existing services or projects to
drop. Librarians cannot be all things to all people all the time. When
something "new" goes on the librarian's plate, something else must be
taken off that plate.

o Champion in the Library. An enthusiastic champion is essential, and
the higher that person is in the hierarchy of the library, the better. The
champion's energy and enthusiasm are contagious and set the tone for
the project. Additionally, the champion works to insure that sufficient
time and resources are dedicated to the project. The presence of a
genuine champion is far more important than either the size or resources
of the site.

o Champion in the Community. Some of the libraries found a
champion in the community who became an avid supporter and
promoter of Internet uses. These champions, whether they were school
teachers, computer enthusiasts, children, community organizations, or
whoever, played a very important role in marketing and promoting the
library's networked services to the community. Indeed, it was clear that
at some of the sites, the champions were a key factor in the community's
involvement and interest in the Internet connection. Once the champion
experienced the benefits, he or she "spread the word" to other
community members.

The fostering and perhaps nurturing of community members to
champion the uses of the Internet helped the library a great deal to (1)
educate its community (2) promote the new service, and (3) increase the
library's visibility and credibility as a key institution in the community.

o Proactive Approach to Public Relations and Community Education.
Library staff must be informed, active advocates of the service. Do not
wait for people to come into the library asking about the Internet
connection; go tell them, show them, and demonstrate the value of the
service with missionary zeal. People need to know what is available and
how it can help them; seeing is believing. The participants agreed that
they needed access to a laptop with a LCD panel display and projector so
that they could take the Internet to potential users and funders via off-site
demonstrations throughout the community. Also, have prepared
demonstrations ready to go at a moment's notice to show to people who
come into the library.

Thus far, the sites have used various forms of publicity in addition to
word of mouth: making a point of showing the service to patrons who
come into the library for other reasons, producing feature articles for
local newspapers as well as patron and library system newsletters,
attending local government and school board meetings, and providing
demonstrations for various community organizations that meet regularly
at the library.

o Adequate Budgets and Telecommunications Subsidies. Libraries
need better funding overall and help with long-distance
telecommunications charges, as these quotes express:

There must be a recognition, in the form of money and advocacy, of
the role rural libraries play in creating an informed rural community.
This recognition must come from funding sources at the local, county,
state, and federal levels.

There must be a commitment by the federal and state governments to
ensure equal access to all citizens, and there must be a recognition of
the special needs of the rural areas.

Telecommunications providers must make a firm commitment to the
importance of equal access. Reduced charges must somehow be
effected for rural areas.

o Having Good Basic Computer Hardware and Software. Participants
also noted that they had been very fortunate to have received such high-
quality equipment from Apple. They recognized that having such state-
of-the-art equipment certainly contributed to their overall success.

Enthusiasm and personal commitment on the part of participants is
essential. The sense that "we can make this project successful" immediately
from project initiation contributed to its success. But attention to the
above critical success factors prior to and during the process of connecting
rural public librarians is likely to enhance overall success of the effort.

 

CONCLUSIONS
___________

The range and extent of the findings from this study suggest a number of
conclusions. Indeed, the study team believes that there are additional
conclusions beyond those listed here. Nonetheless, these particular
conclusions are seen as especially important as public libraries move into
the networked environment.

 

Internet Connectivity Is Essential for Rural Public Libraries and
Communities

All participants agreed that their network connections produced major
inroads into (1) combating isolation and (2) creating a "level playing field"
for both the libraries and their communities in terms of having access to
information resources and services and in terms of having a voice to affect
larger societal issues.

Being isolated from the mainstream of world activities and developments
is a very negative aspect of rural life. Access to many traditional sources
of information is out of reach both budgetarily and geographically. As the
following quotes illustrate, the Internet holds the potential to alleviate
this negative aspect of rural life while maintaining the many positive ones.
It can enable individuals to think globally while acting locally:

Because of our limited budget, attendance at conferences and other forms
of professional networking that provide discussion of issues has
heretofore been impossible. Now shared knowledge and the free
exchange of ideas is a daily reality. This has helped me to be a better
librarian and allowed me to maintain a global perspective while
affirming the importance of our small library in the overall scheme of
things.

Instead of being a small community library, it will become a worldwide
library with a small library personality still remaining.

My life has been changed by our library's participation in this project.
The connections made with resources and, more importantly, with
people have helped me to become a better librarian and have completely
alleviated the sense of isolation that comes with being in charge of a
small rural library.

The Internet has transformed Old Forge from an isolated island to an
international airport.

A network connection, in short, puts a big dent in one of the rural
community's biggest disadvantages -- intellectual isolation.

Because rural communities don't have a demographically dense
population, their needs are often overlooked, and their voices are often
not heard. Internet access is a way for the rural community, through the
public library, to be seen and heard.

These communities represent those that are truly in danger of becoming
information poor. While the potential clearly exists for the Internet to
provide a "level playing field," currently, there is not a "level playing
field" regarding telecommunications access charges. A regulatory safety net
is needed to insure that these sites and others like them have affordable
access to the Internet.

 

A Little Money Makes a Big Difference

The range of uses and applications that resulted in these libraries in a very
short period of time due to having an Internet connection suggests that
relatively little investment in the library can have significant benefits and
results. A moderately priced computer, with modem and software,
providing a terminal mode dial-up connection would cost, in 1994, in the
range of $3,000. (This estimate uses NYSERNet's Transit connection as a
basis for illustration.) Telecommunications charges vary from site to site
depending on the location of a POP of a telephone connection by an Internet
service provider.

For most communities in this country, an investment of $3,000 for
equipment and a connection is an incredible bargain. Indeed, in many
communities, such an amount is a rounding error in the budget process.
These libraries clearly showed that given the resources, they could provide
services that significantly enhanced their communities. But without Project
GAIN, the libraries doubted if they would have ever had the chance -- it
likely would have been impossible to convince their local funders to provide
the support.

Long Distance Telecommunication Charges

The annual average cost of the sites' network connection would be $2,100
per year. This represents a significant expense, but our study has found that
long distance telephone charges for the sites would actually surpass this
cost, on an annual basis. With some sites reporting increases in their
telephone bills of between $200 and $350 per month, annual costs to reach the
nearest "on ramp" to the Internet currently could exceed $3,000 per year, and
these costs are likely to increase as usage increases.

 

Difficulty in Providing Public Access

The goal of providing public access to the Internet via the public library
takes considerable planning and thought. As suggested in this project, there
are a number of key activities and issues that have to be addressed before
such public access can be provided. For example, designing the physical
facility for the public access terminal, managing the amount of time to be
used on the terminal, providing adequate training and assistance to the
public, and insuring security and control over the equipment and software
only begins to address the key issues.

Libraries participating in the project that did provide public access found
that at times they were overwhelmed with requests to use the terminal, that
the time required to manage access and provide training was excessive, and
that they were constantly forced to choose between giving time to
supporting this service as opposed to other library services.

In short, a range of activities will have to occur before the public library
can provide direct public access to the Internet. Some online catalog
commercial systems now provide seamless connection from within their
automated system to the Internet. But for those libraries that are unable to
purchase such systems, in-house solutions will be necessary. Those in-house
solutions will require planning, training, and policy development before
such access can occur.

 

The Public Library as a Safety Net for Internet Access

Were it not for these public libraries, the Internet would not be accessible
to the general public in these communities. The idea of not providing
Internet access to the public struck the participants as simply "wrong-
headed." In the words of one woman, "If the public library doesn't provide
the public access to the Internet, who will?" In most of these communities,
as is true in other communities across the country, it will be some time
before there are significant numbers of individuals that have computers and
modems.

The notion of the public library as a safety net to insure public access to
networked information resources and services seemed to the participants to
be a normal and appropriate role for the public library -- one that fit nicely
with its traditional role in society. The participants commented:

On the network, if you have questions, all you need to do is ask. I find
the people on the network more helpful than in person. It cultivates a
spirit of cooperation. The network is a place of almost instant
information access. A place for give and take. A place to better educate
yourself and others. A place that can be personally enriching on many
levels. It's what libraries are all about, and it is something that belongs
in libraries.

A basic principle of American democracy has always been informed
citizen participation. Since their inception, public libraries have always
tried to freely inform all of their citizens, including the disadvantaged.
Information still equals power, and libraries must try to remain free
information dispensing institutions for all of their patrons.

The librarians were concerned, however, about how the public library could
fulfill this role in a society where there appears to be decreasing resources
available to support such a role and limited concern and attention to
education, libraries, and lifelong learning.

There was agreement that the public library community would also have
to do a better job of educating the community and the policymakers about
what the public library could do as a safety net and why such a role is
important. Much work remains, they believed, in convincing both local and
national leaders that the public library should be supported to serve this
role.

 

Connectivity May not be the Key Problem

Connecting libraries to the NII, in and of itself, may not be the most
difficult problem to address -- although it certainly will require careful
thought and consideration. More important than connectivity will be issues
related to who will have what type of access to the NII, how to pay for the
costs associated with using the network, training librarians, educating the
public on how to use the NII, and developing a range of applications and
uses to promote network literacy and enhance the educational system
(McClure, 1993). An understanding of the policy issues affecting the use of
the NII and a clarification of the policies that will be needed to promote use
and impact of the NII are needed in addition to connectivity.

 

Attitude

To a large degree, the change in knowledge among the participants
between the beginning and the end of the project was phenomenal. At the
start, most of the participants were unfamiliar with computers and
telecommunications; they knew only passingly of the Internet or what it was;
and they were very unsure of how the connection would affect their library.
But the key ingredient they did have, was a very positive and inquisitive
attitude. They wanted to learn, they wanted to experiment, and they wanted to
try. This attitude is essential for public librarians wanting to move
successfully into the networked environment. The positive attitude appears
to be more important than any demographic or community characteristic.

The positive attitude includes a vision of what the Internet is and could be,
and it also includes a leadership stance, as demonstrated by the following
statement from one of the participants:

I had a discussion recently with a person who is acquainted with the
Internet. His comments were along the lines of, "The network is a very
good reference catalog" and "It's a place where professors carry on
discussions that are above the average person's head."

I, too, see it as a very good reference catalog. But I also see it as
something that is kind of alive. It reminds me of an old "B" movie I saw
once where the outer walls of this house were expanding and contracting,
breathing. And if you dared go in, the house was full of everything your
imagination could conjure up.

The network is also alive and accessible to anyone who dares go in.
There are living people out there just waiting to talk to you. There is a
newsgroup for every conceivable interest, from biological research to
grooming your dog. And not only are these things there, there are live
people you can ask questions of, give advice to, and in general just
converse with. Yes, I could read a book on any conceivable topic as well,
but there is always another question that needs answering, and with each
answer, there are more questions. Just a reference catalog indeed : )
NOT!

So the next time somebody tells you it's just a reference catalog, in your
best Vincent Price impersonation, dare them to come in.

It is this type of positive, enthusiastic attitude that may be the most
important component for success in the networked environment. Public
librarians who demonstrate such an attitude, have a vision, and are willing
to commit time and energy to the effort will transform their communities.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

The range of activities covered by Project GAIN provided a wealth of
information related to the uses of the Internet by rural public libraries. The
results of the evaluation, described earlier in this report, also suggest a
number of recommendations that should be considered by public librarians,
network services providers, network policymakers, and researchers. The
following section describes these recommendations and offers strategies for
how they might be implemented.

 

For Public Librarians

This project demonstrated that public librarians, with little formal training
in networking, could, indeed, get connected to the Internet, use a range of
services, and have an impact on their local communities. The evaluation,
however, also suggests areas where public librarians should take a number
of actions.

 

Obtain Basic Networking Equipment and Connectivity

Participants in Project GAIN obtained computers, modems, software, and
other support because of the various grants. But the vast majority of public
libraries will not receive such awards to obtain the basic equipment and
software necessary for connecting to and using the Internet. Public
librarians must develop strategies for obtaining resources to purchase the
necessary equipment, pay connectivity fees, obtain training, and otherwise
support their Internet connections.

The position that public libraries cannot afford to connect to the Internet is
better stated that public libraries cannot afford to be unconnected to the
Internet. For the price of $3,000 a library can obtain excellent quality
equipment and software that would allow an Internet connection. For many
libraries, equipment is on-hand; they simply need to obtain a connection
from a local service provider. Without equipment and connectivity, public
libraries cannot have the successes and impacts outlined in this report.

 

Increase Community Awareness

For public librarians to be successful as they move to the networked
environment, they must also educate their community, users, and governing
boards. Such a move requires, first, that the public librarians, themselves,
are knowledgeable about the Internet and its applications. But next, they
must constantly be looking for opportunities to increase their community's
awareness of the Internet, educate it regarding the net's possible uses and
applications, and demonstrate real impacts, uses, and benefits from
connectivity to the Internet.

The successful strategies here are to (1) bring opinion leaders from the
community into the library to observe firsthand what the Internet is and how
it works, and (2) go to local community meetings to talk about and
demonstrate the uses and applications of the Internet. It is essential that
the librarians demonstrate impacts that Internet uses would have in their
communities. While there certainly are numerous applications that the
librarians can use, themselves, to better operate the library, developing
programs such as those described earlier in this report significantly
increases both awareness and interest.

 

Create Innovative Networked Information Services

There are a broad range of new, innovative, and exciting services that
public librarians can provide in a networked setting. These networked
services include international keypals between local children and those in a
foreign country, community discussion lists to discuss key issues,
development of a user's own customized electronic library from sources
around the world, or electronic booktalks, to name but a few. Public
librarians are only now beginning to think about the possibilities of
electronic services to their communities in this networked environment.
Clearly, more attention needs to be given to developing networked
information services. More experimentation and innovative ideas are needed
in this area.

 

Promote Network Literacy

A traditional service role of the public library has been to promote literacy
among the population. The public library will need to also promote network
literacy in addition to traditional types of literacy. Simply stated, network
literacy is the ability of an individual to use computer and
telecommunications equipment to identify, access, and obtain information
that is available on the Internet. Increasingly, those individuals who are
network illiterate will find themselves significantly disadvantaged in
society. Public libraries can assume responsibility for educating those in
society about how to access and use networked information and services.

 

Collaborate with Other Local Organizations

Within many local communities are a host of organizations that are
potential partners to work with the public library in providing Internet
services to the community: schools, community colleges, other higher
education institutions, agriculture extension agencies, medical facilities,
private firms, government agencies, social groups, and others. The public
library can serve as an important link among these various groups by taking
the lead to organize access to the Internet and developing strategies for how
such access could benefit other organizations in the community.

For some public librarians, apparently, the prospect of Internet
connectivity appears to be too large a challenge for them to address alone.
There are, however, other organizations in the community that can work
with the library to plan, fund-raise, and install the appropriate equipment.
The important ingredient in collaborative initiatives is vision. The public
library must take a leadership role, offer a vision, and outline strategies
for local groups to work together to get connected.

 

Redeploy Existing Resources

If public librarians wait for "their ship to come in" to provide additional
resources and support for moving to the networked environment, they may
never make the transition. Currently, the public library is caught between
maintaining support for a range of traditional services and activities and
also trying to move into the networked environment. While there certainly are
strategies for obtaining additional resources, public librarians must be
prepared to redeploy existing resources to support the move to the
networked environment and, perhaps leave behind some traditional
resources and information services in the process.

How best to redeploy existing resources and what types of information
resources and services to leave behind in the transition will have to be
determined on a case- by-case basis by each library. For example, some
traditional print reference sources may not need to be purchased when the
library is fully connected with Internet access. These resource allocation
redeployments will require careful thought, but they will be necessary for
most public libraries trying to move to the Internet.

 

Establish a National Training Effort

Currently, the process by which public librarians learn about and are
trained to use the Internet is uneven at best and nonexistent at worst. If
public librarians are to become knowledgeable about the Internet, how to
connect to it, and how to use it as part of their library's normal services, a
national training effort is needed. Language proposed in the National
Information Infrastructure Act of 1993 (H.R. 1757) states that resources
should be made available to:

Train teachers, students, librarians, and state and local government
personnel in the use of computer networks and the Internet. Training
programs for librarians shall be designed to provide skills and training
materials needed by librarians to instruct the public in the use of
hardware and software for accessing and using computer networks and
the Internet.

But where, specifically, these resources will come from, what kind of training
would be done and by whom, how the resources would be distributed, and
who would administer and evaluate the process are not clear.

Public librarians, the professional library associations, Internet service
providers, the state library agencies, the U.S. Department of Education and
other Federal agencies, and educational institutions must develop a coherent
plan to accomplish the objectives outlined in H.R. 1757. As shown in this
study, public librarians have the skills and motivation to move to the
networked environment. But to make this transition they will need a range
of support -- the most essential being training.

 

For Network Service Providers

Network service providers, in this case NYSERNet, can improve the
success with which they deal with public libraries through a number of
techniques. Overall, however, the role of the service provider to support the
public library connection to the Internet is essential.

 

Reevaluate Value-Added Services for Public Libraries

Internet service providers need to work directly with the public library
community to better identify specific types of value added services that
might be provided. For example, the provider might negotiate group
licensing arrangements to make electronic data bases available to members,
provide demonstrations of Internet uses to members in the local community,
or it might develop or organize gophers of lists that are of specific interest
to the public library community. Perhaps due in part to the limited resources
available to most public libraries, the development of network services
targeted at public libraries has been limited. Internet service providers
should reassess what types of services can be provided to public libraries
that are significant yet reasonably priced.

 

Develop and Provide a Range of Training Programs

One of the most important critical success factors for public libraries on
the Internet is training and education. Initially, the service provider
should provide a program that increases awareness of what the Internet is and
how it can be used by the public library. Then there should be a range of
training programs that deal with technical matters, Internet basics, resource
discovery tools, and network-based program development. These are but a few
of the topics that would be especially useful for public libraries.

It is important that the service provider carefully design a program of
instruction as opposed to offering "canned" programs. Thus, a needs
assessment of the instructional needs of the library participants should be
undertaken prior to providing instructional programs. The programs should
be sequenced over time to allow participants to learn and experiment with
their new knowledge. Further, the training should be a "hands-on"
approach that encourages one-on-one interaction between the participant
and the instructor.

 

Promote Evaluation Research

Throughout this project, there was an ongoing tension between the
evaluation and implementation aspects of the project, as evaluators also
were implementing the project at the same time. Time spent on support,
training, and program development cut into time for preparing evaluation
materials, administering data collection instruments, and analyzing results.
Based on this experience, the evaluation team recommends that these two
activities are separated better and that specific support and attention be
given to the evaluation activities by service providers.

Indeed, network service providers must develop more formal mechanisms
to engage in ongoing evaluation research of their products and services. In
most instances, services and products are developed and implemented with
no assessment of the degree to which they meet user information needs.
Service providers should develop such expertise in-house or contract for
such support. Regardless of the approach, more attention must be given to
evaluating the effectiveness of various services and products Service
providers should redeploy their resources to support such activities.

 

For Policymakers

The findings from the evaluation suggest that public libraries in rural
settings can make a significant difference in the provision of networked
information to their communities. There is, however, little public policy --
especially at the Federal level -- to support this effort.

Define a Federal Role to Support Public Libraries In a Networked Society

In recent policy statements from the Clinton Administration as well as
proposed Congressional legislation, there is clear mention of the importance
of connecting libraries to the Internet. But there is no clear picture of
what role public libraries might serve in this networked environment nor is
there a clear picture of what the responsibility of the Federal government
is in supporting public libraries to move to the networked environment.

For example, public libraries might serve as a safety net to society by
providing public access to the Internet. With public access terminals to the
Internet in the nation's public libraries, there would be improved likelihood
for universal access to the Internet. Or perhaps the public libraries could
take on responsibility to promote "network literacy" much as they have
promoted traditional literacy training. Regardless of the particular role,
Federal policymakers and the public library community must do a better job
of clarifying possible public library roles in the NII and determining how the
government can support the libraries' transition into these roles.

 

Develop Statewide Networks

In addition to considering the Federal role in supporting public libraries in
the networked environment, individual states can also develop initiatives
that establish networks, connect public libraries to the networks, and
develop and share electronic services. In the state of Maryland, the Seymore
project provides a broad range of electronic information to public libraries
via the Internet. It is supported by the Maryland State Library (1993) and is
an excellent example of such an approach. Another initiative in the state of
New York is "The Electronic Doorway Library," also being developed by the
state library (New York Education Department, 1993). State policymakers
can learn from these initiatives and initiatives in other states, to promote
public library involvement in the Internet.

 

Use Public Libraries to Provide Government Information and Services

The Clinton Administration has produced a number of reports that
recommend government services and information be developed and
delivered in an electronic, networked medium. For example, individuals
will soon be able to check on their social security accounts, obtain direct
information about crop predictions, or obtain current census data. Not only
government information, but government services would be made available
via the network. Indeed, many agencies already are engaged in electronic
services delivery.

The nation's public libraries can provide an excellent delivery mechanism
to insure public access to electronic information. As Senator Edward
Kennedy recently stated (1994, [p.3]):

Public libraries are a vital information link between the government and
the public. . . , libraries must continue to play a critical role in providing
broad access to the public. Libraries can guide citizens of all ages
through the world of computer networks. As more government
information and access are available on-line, libraries will make the
government less remote and more responsive to the needs of individual
citizens.

With public access Internet terminals in each public library, all members of
the public would have the opportunity to take advantage of electronic
government services. Policy should be developed to support the public
library's role in this area and to help public libraries serve as a safety
net that insures public access to electronic government information and
services.

 

Provide Local Dial-Up Access

Until rural areas can access national and international networks such as
the Internet with a local telephone call, they will be at a serious
disadvantage in comparison to urban areas, where such local dial-up access is
the norm. Local access is unlikely to come about strictly by market forces.
Thus, a very important policy initiative that Federal and state governments
could undertake is to implement policies that make local dial-up access a
reality.
The private sector, especially the telephone and telecommunications sector,
must also take on responsibility in this area. Currently, despite the best
intentions of the public library community, the long distance
telecommunication charges may make connection to the Internet impossible.

 

For Researchers

Additional attention must be given to conducting more, and more
extensive, research related to public libraries and the Internet. Such
research is essential if librarians, providers, and policymakers are to better
understand and assess possible roles of public libraries in the networked
environment.

 

Carefully Determine Which Activities to Evaluate

In Project GAIN, the evaluators developed too elaborate an evaluation
design given the available resources and requirements for successful
equipment implementation, and they administered more data collection
instruments than needed. In fact, they collected so much data that some of it
could not be analyzed due to lack of time and resources. In determining
which activities to evaluate, the following criteria may be useful:

o Feasibility: the degree to which the activity can be easily evaluated
with limited time and resources.

o Actionability: the degree to which the activity can, in fact, be
modified or an intervention can improve it.

o Reliability and Validity of Data: the degree to which reliable and
valid data can, in fact, be obtained from the data collection activity.

o Impact: the degree to which the data will assess direct and indirect
impacts from network connectivity on librarians, community members,
the library overall, or other items.

While other criteria are also useful, the guiding recommendation is to collect
less data of more usefulness and quality.

 

Measuring Impacts

At the beginning of this project, the evaluation team hoped to produce a
range of performance measures that could be used to assess the impact of the
Internet on libraries, librarians, and the local community. While some
significant progress was made in this area, much remains to be done. The
limited time and resources that were available for the evaluation component
hindered conceptual analysis and development of how such performance
measures might evolve.

Thus, the key research question that still remains is how best to measure
impacts of network connectivity in public libraries. The evaluation team
believes that the impacts identified earlier in this report are a significant
step forward. Additional research attention, however, needs to be given to:

o Operationalizing key variables related to the impact of the Internet on
public libraries.

o Developing conceptual models that describe the relationships among
the library and a host of other institutions and organizations in society.

o Developing and describing new service roles to augment those
proposed in Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries (McClure, et
al., 1987).

o Developing, testing, and validating performance measures that assess
the public library in a networked environment.

o Developing simpler and easier-to-use data collection instruments with
more accurate responses.

o Extending the use of qualitative indicators and criteria to assess the
impact of the network on public libraries.

In short, there needs to be much more research support to address these and
related topics. State library agencies, the U.S. Department of Education, the
National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and other
funding sources should review their program efforts and provide some
additional support to libraries and researchers attempting to work in this
area.

The age-old problem of "what good is the public library?" will not go
away simply because the library is able to move into the networked
environment. Instead, a new set of assessment techniques and strategies will
be needed. Except for the effort described in this report, the public library
community is poorly prepared to respond to questions regarding how being
"networked" will make clear and tangible improvements on library services.
The profession's well-known and much used Output Measures for Public
Libraries (Van House, et al., 1987) will need to be reinvented for public
libraries in the networked environment.

 

REACHING FOR THE FUTURE

Probably the single most important critical success factor for this project
was the individual drive, motivation, attitude, and vision of the librarians.
Indeed, participants were selected to participate in the project because of
criteria that included their desire to be part of the project and their
desire to experiment and try something new and exciting. Their excitement and
vision were contagious when they met with others in the community, when
they demonstrated their new knowledge, or when they learned new skills
and ways of using the Internet.

The project clearly demonstrated that public librarians in a very rural
setting with limited resources, when given a chance, could in fact get
connected to the Internet, use a broad range of equipment and electronic
services, develop new types of services to the community, and create a sense
of excitement that came out of the library. Their sense of excitement and
discovery translated into programs and applications that often put the public
library at the foreground of technology application in the entire community.
Indeed, many of the issues related to moving to the networked environment
are similar to those being faced by other types of libraries (McClure et al.,
1994).

President Clinton announced in his State of the Union Address of January
25, 1994, "we must work with the private sector to connect every classroom,
every clinic, every library [and] every hospital in America into the national
information superhighway by the year 2000" (Clinton, 1994, p. 1). In
addition, the Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) Committee on
Applications and Technology stated in a January 25, 1994, policy document
(1994, p. 3) that libraries are one of seven major application areas for
initial study. The report went on to say that:

Providing equitable access is important for many of the applications
areas considered. This issue includes access to other individuals and
citizen groups via the NII as well as access to information.... For
education and for libraries, all teachers and students in K-12 schools and
all public libraries -- whether in urban suburban, or rural areas; whether
in rich or in poor neighborhoods -- need access to the educational and
library services carried on the NII. All commercial establishments and all
workers must have equal access to the opportunities for electronic
commerce and telecommuting provided by the NII. Finally, all citizens
must have equal access to government services provided over the NII.

The findings offered earlier in this report offer a beginning perspective on
the issues and barriers that must be resolved if public libraries are to
participate effectively in accomplishing such goals.

How the electronic, networked public library evolves, how the private
sector and public libraries can work together to realize the vision of
President Clinton, and determine the Federal role in promoting the
President's vision are critical concerns. A study currently sponsored by the
National Commission of Libraries and Information Science (1993) may help
to shed some light on such roles. The importance, however, of public access
to electronic information in a networked environment cannot be
underestimated as such access affects the very fabric of our society and life.

The networked public library is a future that public librarians must move
toward. This future is one that offers the public library great opportunities
to be an electronic community spokesperson and "central hub" that links
various community activities both with themselves and to the outside world.
Indeed, linkages is what the network does best. Although we are only now
beginning to explore how best to exploit the potential of electronic
networking, the time is now for public libraries to move into this networked
environment and, at the same time, move into the future!

 

REFERENCES

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