When Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library System staff were approached to join our Web-scale Management Services (WMS) pilot group, they were in the midst of a major hardware crisis. WMS offered an appealing approach to solving this crisis because it is not dependent on servers. Jackie Beach, Director of the Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library System in North Carolina, shared her experiences with librarians and other pilot participants at a session during ALA Midwinter.
Jackie's library system is located in eastern North Carolina, comprising nine branches and spanning three counties. The libraries are all very different, from the traditional main branch to Pamlico County Library—a joint public and high school library. This library has successfully operated as a joint facility since 1978. The library system serves approximately 57,000 patrons, with 99 library staff.
In her own words, here is Jackie's story:
I'm a public librarian, an administrator who is interested in public service and making life as easy as possible for my staff, who deal more directly with the public than I do. Despite the differences in the types of populations our libraries serve, we all share a common desire to do good stuff.
In February of 2009, our ten-year-old server gave up the ghost. From February to June, we were without a server—without any of our automated systems. With the help of Tim Rogers from NCLive, who was concerned that we didn't have any automated systems in any of our libraries, we were able to get a loaner server from Eastern North Carolina University.
When we started pricing servers—you know what the economy is becoming—it was a big chunk of change that we just didn't have lying around. But we didn't know how much longer our system was going to work. Tim recommended us to Andrew Pace at OCLC. Once I spoke with him, I couldn't say yes fast enough.
The first benefit of using WMS was that we are now free of hardware—what a blessing. And we are free from upgrades and all of the compatibility issues. We don't have to worry about replacing equipment and paying outrageous prices and maintenance fees.
Secondly, we have flexibility. We have professionals, paraprofessionals, volunteers and even youth who want to try things out. We have become a prime example to our region and to our state. Ever since I told our county managers how much money we were going to save them, they've been friendlier to us than they have been in a long time.
We want to be an example. We are by no means a cosmopolitan area. We are rural. A lot of our people are fishermen and farmers. New Bern is probably the largest area we serve—it just celebrated its 300th anniversary. We have a tremendous amount of local history there, which is going to be a delightful thing when you talk about exposing these hidden local collections.
I have a wonderful staff—very innovative and excited to learn and try new things. One of my branch managers once said, "Every now and then we borrow something from another library for one of our patrons. This will allow us to borrow more easily, but what I really can't wait for is the chance to lend something!"
They want to be a part of this overall community, of information and services. One of my staff participated in a WMS webinar. She is in a very rural county, and she came away really excited about the ability to take a laptop now into a daycare center or a senior center and share the library's holdings with them—and share with them what's out there in the world.
It's been an interesting journey. With seven or eight weeks behind us, I think the one thing I would emphasize to any of you would be—if I had to do it again, I would make sure that my staff—to the very last person—understood what exactly it means to be a pilot project. A pilot project means we are building this plane while we're flying it.
The hardest thing in the world is change—even if that change is for the best. We are not sorry at all that we have taken this journey. The possibilities are so endless—opportunities for the future—even problems are opportunities to solve. I would encourage any of you, who are ready to break the bonds of hardware and soar to the clouds, take a look at this system. It is so innovative.
For us in eastern North Carolina to be one of the pilot projects, despite some of the headaches… I won't say it's been all perfect, because nothing is. But it has offered us an opportunity to take a leap forward and freed us up to do bigger and better things with the limited staff—because they are no longer telling people which buttons to push, they will be much more effective at serving the public.
And for us, as I remind my people, 'public' is our middle name, and if you don't have 'public' in your heart, then you don't need to be doing the job. All of you at public libraries, I urge you to take a look at this, and you, too, can take a walk with me in the clouds.