Connecting rural communities to the world’s information
We the cooperative: Learn how Boundary County District Library moved to Web-scale Management Services
By Sandy Ashworth, Boundary County District Library Director
When the opportunity came to become one of the pilot participants for OCLC’s Web-scale Management Services (WMS), there was no question—we were on board. OCLC had proved its value through WorldCat and FirstSearch. Above all, we liked that OCLC is a library cooperative. We are members working together toward a common vision, sharing many of the same challenges. And it is through this shared vision that we hope to eliminate many of the barriers that prevent access to information.
Boundary County District Library, Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
We were considering other library information systems at that time. Unfortunately, none of them were affordable, not with our limited tax base and long-standing three-percent cap on local government budget increases. We were using a product designed primarily for schools because we had anticipated integrating our resources with local school libraries by sharing an automation system and OPAC. Economic realities put a stop to that plan with the school district being forced to adopt a four-day school week and close one outlying elementary school. The school district’s financial woes continue to mount with eroding local revenues and severe cuts in funding for education at the state level.
We also had to improve accessibility for our patrons. More and more we were doing more online—from applying for a job to managing their finances and shopping. Community leaders, including the library, have been working hard to expand high-speed broadband access throughout the region. This opportunity with WMS opened a door for us. OCLC’s WMS offered a solution that is in line and compatible with what is happening around us. And, not only could we get our foot in the door at an affordable price, we could help shape this new solution so it could benefit other small rural libraries—a bargain we could not resist.
Throughout the pilot, we felt our voice was heard concerning the issues we face. We implemented WMS at the end of 2010. In spite of the challenges presented by changing from the ultra-simple school model we’d been using to the more complex WMS (think sand lot transition to the major leagues), we found only more of the same excellent technical support we were used to with WorldCat and First Search.
For us, a very rural community—where people have to drive two and a half hours to the nearest airport—the connection with OCLC on this project has been amazing. As I like to tell everyone, “we choose to become a WMS early adopter so that we could provide you with local service and a global reach.”
It is exciting to be a pioneer! It is hugely gratifying to know that the Boundary County District Library has and will continue to contribute to the shared vision for what WMS will become—“The world’s libraries. Connected.”
More about Boundary County and Sandy Ashworth
Boundary County is located at the tip of the Idaho panhandle and shares borders with Canada, Montana and Washington State. The county is remarkable for its scenic mountains, glacial valleys and river systems. It is also remarkable for its extensive public lands which account for nearly 75 percent of the county’s total land mass and the number of endangered species within its borders. It is also the historical home of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.
Social and economic challenges are not new to the people of Boundary County. In all of its history, county residents have had to contend with the issues of geographic isolation, an unstable rural economy, a dearth of well-funded social services and limited educational and cultural opportunities. The county’s fragile economy continues to reflect the destabilizing effects of the nation’s worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s—from the collapse of the housing market, income contractions and soaring energy costs to a 15.2 percent unemployment rate.
Boundary County’s public library began as a volunteer library in 1913, with a wheelbarrow of donated books. A growing population with growing educational needs fueled a communitywide effort to successfully establish Idaho’s first countywide taxing district for a public library in 1956. In 1974, the library moved into its own 8,000 square-foot building located in the center of Bonners Ferry, the county seat and largest of the county’s six communities.
I went from frequent visitor to the library to part-time employee in 1985. Part-time became full-time and I was chosen to serve as the director in 1996. A 1996 survey of local social and economic issues by the University of Idaho for county officials documented an escalating severity of economic and social at-risk factors diminishing the quality of life for many residents. In light of the university’s findings, we reaffirmed the library’s long-standing commitment to community service by launching a major outreach campaign—Community Connections—to establish a comprehensive, integrated network of community partnerships to look for and develop more effective ways work together to meet critical community needs in spite of the adverse economic and social conditions plaguing the region.
Community Connections led to a nomination in 2002 by Idaho Congressman C.L. “Butch” Otter for the new National Award for Library Service developed by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and First Lady Laura Bush. Much to our surprise, we won the award based on our efforts to improve the overall quality of life for our residents, increasing literacy levels and providing workforce training and early childhood education opportunities.
The National Award provided us with maximum incentive to continue seeking opportunities for partnerships and collaboration at the local, regional, and state levels. The door opened to collaboration possibilities at the national and international levels with my appointment to the National Commission on Library and Information Science by President Bush in October 2003. I served as a NCLIS commissioner from 2004 through 2009, representing aging and at-risk populations in rural communities. Rural communities share many common needs but rural communities in the West are especially challenged by vast distances and connectivity issues that impede economic development and community revitalization. Visions for community improvement too often crash on the realities of what is actually possible, especially when the “information highway” ends just out of reach—high speed broadband access is still only a dream for many in Boundary County.
As negative economic drivers continued to threaten the ability of even the most stable public institutions to provide adequate services that meet user needs, collaboration continued to serve the library well in sustaining the growth and relevancy of its services and resources. Idaho was just one of many states taking collective action to expand user access to optimum library services. In Idaho, collaboration was improving interlibrary loan capabilities and providing even the smallest public libraries access to a wide variety of information databases through statewide licensing agreements or partnerships with other state agencies.
We already saw OCLC as a major collaborative asset as it was connecting our library to almost all of Idaho’s libraries as well as hundreds of other libraries around the world through WorldCat and First Search. A preview of WorldCat Local at a NCLIS meeting at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., made me an even bigger fan of OCLC. Its plans to expand its cooperative services for libraries like mine clearly seemed “the way to go.”