Indianapolis–Marion County Public Library taps wireless and Voice over IP to meet public need, boost productivity and reduce costs.
The Indianapolis–Marion County Public Library system’s new Central Library is aesthetically pleasing with wide-open spaces, an atrium and multiple reading rooms. Its 340 public workstations, Voice over Internet Protocol, Voice over Wireless, free Wi-Fi and a 50 megabits per second connection to the Internet make it a shining star among public libraries.
With the goal of creating a community destination, the Indianapolis–Marion County Public Library in Indianapolis, has created a new state-of-the art facility that embraces technology. The Central Library closed in 2002 for a major expansion that cost about $103 million, with $2.5 million dedicated to technology. It reopened in December to eager patrons.
“I’m really proud of the infrastructure we have in place and that we only have two guys managing it,” says Debra Champ, director of technology for the library. With remote tools Champ’s staff is able to keep the networks up and running 24x7, which is something patrons expect today.
On the first day of the reopening, patrons armed with their own notebook computers occupied the reading room for hours connected to the library’s public Wi-Fi network. “Wi-Fi users can sit there for hours, and we have some really nice areas like the East Garden where there are benches and six gazebos,” Champ says.
Environment and Infrastructure
Before the main facility closed, there were only 33 patron PCs. There are more than ten times the number of desktop PCs and notebook computers today.
Computers are available near the library’s main entrance so patrons can quickly check their e-mail or search the Internet upon arrival. Sixty notebooks are dedicated to the children’s area, and the rest of the computers are deployed throughout the library for use by individuals who need more time to do research, work on a project or write.
All of the computers use a time-keeping application, called SAM, that prevents users from monopolizing a patron PC while others are waiting. The quick-access PCs allow users to log in for two non-consecutive 15-minute sessions. The others allow users to log in for two consecutive one-hour sessions.
As part of the expansion, the Central Library was outfitted with VoIP. The library system began deploying Cisco VoIP gear in libraries in 2003, adding one branch at a time. VoIP has generated savings of about $150,000 per year, and Champ expects to increase that by about $25,000 now that the Central Library has migrated too.
While the new facility was under construction, the Central Library was housed at the old Indiana State Museum. They relied mainly on wireless in the interim because they didn’t want to spend on infrastructure. But that helped IT learn a valuable lesson.
There were two wireless networks in the temporary digs – one for the public and one for the staff. That setup became too cumbersome and Wi-Fi security concerns were continually nagging at Champ. When putting together the technology plan for the new building, the library staff decided to go with a Category 6 wired LAN for the internal network.
The new library’s Cisco Wi-Fi network is dedicated to public use, with one exception — the library staff uses VoWiFi badges for internal communications.
“The new building is three times larger,” says Champ. “We weren’t going to staff it like we probably should because of budget constraints. The mobility factor was a necessity.” The VoWiFi gear paid for itself, in that the one-time cost was equivalent to three full-time employees that the library would need every year going forward.
With the wireless badge system, staff can call security, have incoming calls transferred to them and send broadcast messages to all employees — for example, if a fire alarm is being tested. It’s also useful for location tracking, whereby a staffer’s position in the building is identified by the access point he or she is closest to.
Champ says the VoWiFi system is working well; a few kinks in the broadcast system are being worked out now.
The Central Library doesn’t want for bandwidth, either. In order to accommodate the jump in Internet access that was anticipated by adding more than 300 workstations and free Wi-Fi, the library expanded its connection. The library is now using a 50Mbps connection to the Internet; before, it used 30Mbps.
Indianapolis–Marion County’s Central Library is an impressive example where a local government funded organization taps technology to reduce expenses and increase productivity while also serving the public need.
Libraries Lag in High-Speed Connections
The Indianapolis–Marion County Central Library’s tech focus is the exception rather than the rule. According to a report by the Information Use Management and Policy Institute of Florida State University’s College of Information, Public Libraries and the Internet 2007: Report to the American Library Association, only 32.9 percent of public-library branches have Internet connections up to 1.5 megabits per second, and only 29.2 percent have connection speeds that exceed 1.5Mbps. The average number of patron PCs with Internet access is 10.7.