The Cumberland County Library System turned to high-speed Ethernet to improve its connectivity Featured

10:41pm EDT December 18, 2013
The Cumberland County Library System turned to high-speed Ethernet to improve its connectivity

As a cornerstone of the communities they serve, today’s libraries have evolved beyond just providing books to their patrons: they now offer group meeting sites, public Internet access, research information, digital content and so much more. 

Yet despite the greater number of amenities that can be found within their doors, libraries are finding that their budgets are continuing to tighten. This leaves many libraries and library systems increasingly saddled with the task of offering new services — and the technology necessary to deliver them — while still adhering to limited funding sources.

The Cumberland County Library System is the busiest library system in the state, receiving more than 1,200 online customer requests per day and circulating more than 2.2 million items annually. In 2012 alone, more than 1.2 million people visited the actual library facilities themselves, and the system’s online card catalog continues to be visited roughly 3 million times each year.

Consisting of eight library locations and a system headquarters office, CCLS provides services to more than 244,700 residents across Cumberland County and parts of Franklin County in eastern Pennsylvania.

With such high traffic on its network, the CCLS is quite dependent on its Internet connectivity.  Beyond the everyday activities that require reliable Web access, the library also provides online access within its physical locations to its print and audio catalog, membership portal and eResource download center — as well as various types of productivity software like Microsoft Office — to patrons who may not have access to these tools from their homes.

Addressing a problem

Internet connectivity became an issue recently when CCLS began to receive complaints from patrons who were increasingly frustrated with how long it would take for them to access these resources while visiting the library itself. 

“One of our patrons remarked that by the time he was able to finally access the software he was trying to use at our resource center, it was useless to him because he had already given up and found the information he needed through a different method,” said Jonelle Prether Darr, executive director of the Cumberland County Library System.

“He wasn’t alone. Many of our patrons were increasingly frustrated by the slow Internet speeds when using our library computers to upload or download documents for job searches, online classes or when communicating with distant relatives.”

This frustration was also evident with library staff. Many of them were forced to drive to library headquarters in Carlisle, Pa., to attend internal training sessions in order to avoid needing to use the painfully slow Internet connection.

Library staff attempted to participate in online training sessions that were designed to make everyone’s life easier, but it only served to overcomplicate things.

The video feed was choppy, the audio was intermittent and in the end, staff members would find they had wasted an hour with nothing to show for it. Driving to headquarters was the only solution, but it came at a cost. There was the obvious cost of fuel and mileage, but the trips would also take staff away from their desks at the libraries and away from supporting patrons.

A growing trend

CCLS knew that the time had come to upgrade its network, not just to deliver the best possible experience for its patrons using on-site computers, but also for its employees. The solution was high-speed Ethernet.

The CCLS is using 10 Ethernet Network Service connections that range from 100 megabits-per-second (Mbps) to 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) of speed. This links all locations, as well as library headquarters, to the nearby county courthouse. The CCLS also has a 100 Mbps Ethernet dedicated Internet line that is improving Internet connectivity at its more than 300 on-site branch computers.

With speeds up to 33 times faster than a standard T1 line, experts estimate that Ethernet customers can download a 2GB file in approximately four minutes, which would otherwise take T1s more than 2½ hours.

“One of the main advantages is its ability to reliably connect organizations to both their data and their employees — whether they happen to be sitting next to each other, down the street or across the state,” says Glenn Lytle, vice president of Comcast Business in the Keystone Region.

CCLS reached out to Comcast and opted to install 10 Ethernet lines that would link all of its locations to each other, as well as connect its library headquarters in Carlisle to the nearby county courthouse. The goal was to increase the Internet speeds of all computers within each location, as well as improve the existing video conferencing system that had previously caused issues for library staff — without costing an arm and a leg.

The move paid instant dividends. As of November, CCLS had already saved 30 percent in costs from switching to Ethernet — and with more services planned over the coming months, Darr expects that number to increase.

“What this process has shown us, more than anything else, is that when there is no problem, nobody complains — and that is, quite frankly, exactly what we’re striving for at the end of the day,” Darr says. “And, of course, the fact that we’ve already seen a cost savings for the latter half of this year alone understandably makes us even happier.”

CCLS seems to be just one of a number of local organizations that have embraced Ethernet.  Local companies in a diverse range of other industries — like Hanover, Pa.-based Utz Quality Foods, which recently installed Ethernet to connect a number of its locations scattered across the eastern part of the country — have started using this technology as a cost-effective, more reliable alternative to the service typically provided by the telephone company. 

For Somerset, Pa.-based PBS Coals, the fourth-largest coal producer in Pennsylvania, nearly all of the organization’s day-to-day business activities are dependent on 3D maps — which can be up to 3 gigabytes in size and must be constantly updated using AutoCAD software to reflect the most accurate information on miner locations, drilling depths and safety hazards. PBS opted to install Ethernet to expedite the transfer of these critical files to help ensure the safety of its 650 employees in multiple locations across Somerset County. 

And Canonsburg, Pa.-based Sarris Candies recently experienced the benefits of Ethernet firsthand when its Internet connection remained intact even after a fire broke out at the iconic candy store’s main headquarters. 

Although the fire destroyed approximately a third of the company’s inventory, including more than 50,000 pounds of chocolate, seasonal candy molds and equipment right before Valentine’s Day and Easter, Sarris Candies remained connected to the Internet the entire time. 

“We had smoke coming out of our windows and the fire department at our door, but our delivery trucks continued to run since we were still able to process our orders,” says Norm Candelore, retail operations manager for Sarris Candies. 

“When the smoke had cleared, all of our internal cabling was destroyed, and our IT folks needed to rewire the entire store — but the actual service coming into our building remained uninterrupted, and all we had to do was take our laptops and relocate down the block to the warehouse in order to continue operating as normal.”

The move toward Ethernet is only gaining steam. Leading industry analyst firms like Vertical Systems Group reported that worldwide demand for business Ethernet services will reach $45.1 billion by 2016. It’s now up to other local businesses to determine whether this technology is right for them.

How to reach: Cumberland County Library System, (888) 697-0371 or www.cumberlandcountylibraries.org