Direct, high-speed internet access means less waiting, faster browsing, and better transmission quality–which all translate into better learning. For one school district, it also means state-of-the-art multimedia library services.

In the three years since a successful bond election in 1995, the Aspen, Colo., School District has pulled in $3.15 million for technology development. Through a cooperative grant from Colorado State University, the district was able to get schools a T-1 connection to the internet, sharing the line via frame relay with a large high school in Denver.

The direct connection allowed Aspen to offer some whiz-bang library services, said district Librarian Pat Hodgson. One of the showcase services Hodgson’s team put together is a web-based electronic reference capability. Her staff immediately began creating curriculum pages and reconfiguring modes of access to other resources. The result is an integrated platform for access to most library services.

Aspen is a member of Marmot, a regional consortium of western Colorado libraries that uses CARL Corporation automation software. The district will begin delivery of Marmot over the network this summer and will replace their Marmot/CARL interface, Everybody’s Catalog, with CARLWeb for the high school and middle school. They will continue to use Kid’s Catalog for the elementary school. At present, Aspen does not offer dial-up access for students; however, staff can dial up by using a pool of eight modems. The district is exploring ways to upgrade their internal telephone connections and ensure better services throughout the district.

In terms of database access, the Aspen School District has realized great benefits from its affiliation with three different Colorado library consortia. Hodgson describes the Bibliographical Center for Research (BCR) and Colorado Consortium for Database Networking (CCDN) and, now, the Front Range Consortium (FRC), as being “tenacious” in their approach to vendor negotiations, having returned competitive pricing for many libraries.

Aspen pays approximately $400 (or .52 per FTE) for a subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica and less than that for both Grolier Multimedia and Encyclopedia Americana. Their subscription to Galenet is brokered by CCDN and is calculated on usage. Aspen’s OCLC FirstSearch fee is a minimum of $200 annually, though the databases tend to change occasionally in response to consortial dictate. The big ticket item for Aspen is UMI Proquest at $3,000 annually. The district will pay for it next year out of Title VI funds. Hodgson is emphatic that she would not have been able to subscribe to so many databases without consortial pricing.

Hodgson does the cataloging for the district on the OCLC system. She is switching from their quarterly delivery of bibliographic records on CDs (CATCD) to CATME, an online cataloging product. She uploads her cataloging to OCLC and then it is sent to Marmot via overnight tape upload, which is the most economical solution for the volume she handles. Hodgson likes knowing that items will reach the shelves in a timely manner and appreciates the flexibility of doing the cataloging herself. But she also recognizes the trade-off in choosing not to outsource, because cataloging is an extremely time intensive activity for her.

In the future, Hodgson anticipates tremendous pressures on librarians to deliver more and more web-based information. She has happily migrated from many CD-ROM products to web-based products, because she lacks the staff to maintain a CD-ROM network. Still, she confesses that without Aspen’s high-speed connection to the internet, she would not be so serene about the migration. Although her elementary and middle school libraries will still use CD towers in the near term, she is not so certain that the district will continue to maintain the high school tower for other than text-based resources.

Hodgson also predicts pressures on librarians to secure the integrity of their print budgets, especially in reference and serials (periodicals) collections. Her own serials budget has been cut dramatically over the last five years. She confesses to being “a slave” to her print collection, although she realizes the inescapable draw of the internet. The district premised its bond election “partially on testimony from students who felt ill-prepared in colleges and universities where dependence on electronic formats was crucial.”

But Hodgson notes that high-speed connections, database access, eMail options, additional computers, higher quality printers, and imaging/scanning devices all amount to a continuing commitment of substantial investment. Satellite and distance learning are the areas that the district is targeting next year, continuing the trend toward more technology.

But for Hodgson, the bottom line is not the technology itself. “Keeping up with technology has allowed us to collaborate more effectively with teachers in designing information skills integration,” she said. “The staff relies heavily on the library to deliver these skills through the new software programs and web sites that we introduce through the library.”

One of the library’s objectives is to integrate the print with the electronic in a reasonable and equitable fashion. “Once the allure of searching the web wanes and web sites become as commonplace as materials on the reference shelf, we hope that the [student] skill level for information retrieval will be equal,” Hodgson said. The district technology plan states that technology is a tool to be woven into all curricular areas. The library fits into this plan by performing as a microcosm of the K-12 program and integrating as many technologies as possible into the different curricula.

The human factor

Finally, Hodgson lauds the human factor. “I’m pleased to report it is people, not the machines who direct the pace and focus our state-of-the-art facilities. Without those committed and overworked colleagues, our bond dollars would not have been translated into the successful systems I currently use.”

She praises the fervor of the middle school administrator who fought long and hard for technology as a delivery system. She credits district technology director Patty Goodson with being “the genius behind the technology.” Goodson has coordinated and implemented the changes, gaining district access to Colorado State’s cooperative and maintaining the district-wide momentum.

Hodgson observes that as recently as five years ago, the high school had fewer than twelve phones, but no shortage of paper notes taped up in the hallways. She and her colleagues have worked hard to educate staff and parents about the pace of the district’s technology integration.

Staff development, in particular, is an ongoing struggle. She sees herself continuing to “nag and request new equipment and shares of the technology pot for databases, workstations, satellite systems, and in return, provide my expertise in reviewing databases, hardware and software, and other products which support, supplement, and enhance the delivery of our K-12 curricula.” With all these contributions, Hodgson emphasizes her debt to the key people who continue to make things happen.