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Wi-Fi Upgrades Bring New Customers to Pennsylvania Libraries

Westmoreland County's network of public libraries updated its information technology systems to give patrons using mobile devices a better experience.

by Joe Napsha, Tribune-Review / March 16, 2015

(Tribune News Service) -- Janet Hudson has what she calls her “coffee shop clientele” who come into the Ligonier Valley Library in downtown Ligonier, Pa., plop down in a seat with their mobile device, log on to the library's Wi-Fi system and stay for the day, conducting business or doing research for a school project.

“This is a whole new clientele. The Wi-Fi has made a big difference (in usage). It's like a coffee shop, but people don't need to buy a cup of coffee every hour,” said Hudson, the library director.

Westmoreland County's network of public libraries updated its information technology systems in December to give patrons using mobile devices — laptops, computerized tablets and smartphones — a better experience in using a wireless Internet service, commonly referred to as Wi-Fi, library officials said.

“We are trying to offer services that people can use in different ways. We're in a technological revolution right now. The libraries have to remain relevant,” said Cesare Muccari, executive director of the Westmoreland County Federated Library System.

The wireless access manager was installed in 18 member libraries that receive state aid, and three branch libraries: the Youngwood branch of Greensburg Hempfield Area; the Caldwell Memorial branch of Adams Memorial in Latrobe; and the Lower Burrell branch of People's in New Kensington.

“Now it's one technology, rather than 18 separate technologies,” Muccari said.

More than half of the libraries had the Wi-Fi service, but it was not strong enough, Muccari said. The Ligonier library, which has had a Wi-Fi system for the past three years, received an upgrade to its system, Hudson said.

The new wireless access manager has a greater bandwidth than the previous Wi-Fi service, Muccari said, “so the patrons make out because they have better Wi-Fi.”

“We can control the amount of bandwidth each patron gets,” he said.

If certain patrons were using bandwidth under the previous Wi-Fi to download movies, as an example, the circulation system and card catalogue systems could be slowed, Muccari said.

“This allows more people to have access,” said Linda Matey, director of the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.

In some cases, patrons have the mobile electronic devices and use the library's Wi-Fi because they don't have Wi-Fi at their homes or it is not operating, Matey said. In other instances, visiting family members bring their mobile devices to the library because they don't have access at their relative's home, she said.

“It's a great system. It's been very helpful,” Matey said.

State Grant

To pay for the updated information technology, the county library system received a $49,994 grant from the Pennsylvania Office of Commonwealth Libraries in October. Westmoreland's public library system received about 5 percent of the $917,162 grant to the state's libraries, and was one of 84 applications that were approved, Muccari said.

The state grant required a local match that amounted to about $2,500, he said. Each of the libraries paid a portion of the local match, based on the number of patrons.

The grant also paid for two new computers each at the North Belle Vernon, Jeannette and Trafford libraries to replace old, outdated XP-model computers, Muccari said. The computers went to libraries that are financially strapped, he said.

The new wireless access manager system also is compatible with the library system's internal system to manages the circulation of materials — books, DVDs, audio books and compact discs.

The wireless access manager system can also “cut off” access for those patrons who owe the library fines, Muccari said.

The updated computer system can provide librarians with reliable statistics focusing on how and when their library is being used, he said.

“We had no way before of getting statistics,” Matey said.

The Ligonier Valley Library knows how many people are using Wi-Fi and for how long, Hudson said. Since it has been tracking it, the library's Wi-Fi use has ranged between 450,000 and 550,000 minutes a year, Hudson said.

“It's very difficult to manage usage if you don't have this system,” she said.

©2015 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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