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Does Midland County have the Tech-iest Library in Texas?

The revamped Centennial Library provides digital signage touchscreens as interactive card catalogs, 60 virtualized computers, Wi-Fi and other new tech features.

On Saturday, April 13, the Midland County, Texas, Public Libraries system is unveiling its new and improved Centennial Library -- complete with next-generation technologies unlike any other leading tech libraries from Texas to the West Coast, says John Trischitti, director of the Midland County Public Libraries.

“I would say that when this library opens, it will be the premiere public library facility in the state of Texas,” he said.

The library will re-open in a new location – now in a one-story, 33,000-square-foot building that was formerly the location of a Linens 'n Things – only this time with a series of tech upgrades and a museum-like appeal, complete with life-size trees, pictures of animals, and a room with its ceiling portraying planet Earth, according to library county officials. 

Jason Bates, the library’s IT director, said the reopened library now features 46-inch digital signage touchscreens to give patrons virtual access to the facility’s database of books and media. And the interactive card catalog displays book titles in a traditional way -- it shows the original book covers sitting on what looks like a wooden book shelf.

To browse through the library’s collection, patrons can filter down results to their choosing by conducting a search for books on tape or CD, or the movie on which the book is based – not the book itself, Bates said. Through the filter, patrons can also view a summary of the book, as well as map out where the copy of the book is located within the library. On the same touchscreen, patrons may reserve books and media, or put a hold on a copy once it becomes available.

Beyond digital search through the library’s database, the library – through an existing partnership with Cisco – will house 60 virtualized public computers using Citrix virtual desktops, which is powered by Cisco servers and EMC SAN storage. Bates said that virtualized environment has allowed the library to expand the technology within the facility without having to hire on additional IT staff.

The library will provide free access to Wi-Fi, and staff will provide free training sessions on how to use tablets and other newer technologies.

To turn the Centennial Library into a haven of next-gen technology, Bates said that library staff, architects and library consultants toured “new libraries” in Texas all the way to the West Coast. By visiting new libraries with leading-edge tech features, the staff learned which might be worth incorporating at their own.

Trischitti said they discovered that each library had “one big bell and whistle,” however, no single library had an entire collection of next-gen library technologies – only standard technologies. After their research, the Centennial Library was revamped with an assortment of newer technologies, not just with one big-ticket item. 

“And on top of what we did with the sampling and everything else, we added a couple dozen of our own ideas,” Bates said. “There’s something new around every corner of this place for somebody to see: technologically and physically.”

Photo: Midland County, Texas, Judge Mike Bradford tries out the new touchscreen digital signage screen at the Midland Centennial Library. By Tim Fischer, The Midland Reporter-Telegram. 

Sarah Rich is a former staff writer for Government Technology.