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CHAPTER 5 - Getting More out of CENIC

The examples noted above demonstrate several of the exciting possibilities that a huge bandwidth boost offers to libraries. But integrating new technology into any organization takes far more than opening a box and turning on a switch. California public libraries are no exception and the challenges unfold in a number of ways.

Equipment & internal wiring: Libraries may have old computers running on operating systems that balk at applications that run on networks as fast as CENIC. Interactive gaming may run very well over a fast network such as CENIC, but then hit a bottleneck once the data arrives at a relatively antiquated computing device. Internal wiring is another issue. Some libraries are old Carnegie buildings dating to the early 20th century and may not have upgraded their internal wiring to support the bandwidth that CENIC brings.

Staff and support: VR and other cutting-edge tech applications such as artificial intelligence and machine learning programs are very “high touch.” This means even libraries sophisticated enough to have such programming must have staff on hand to guide patrons through its use. Often, this involves asking incumbent staff to do new things on top of existing responsibilities. This places new burdens on staff in terms of managing tasks, but also calls for the tech skills to run a virtual reality program. Staff training is an obvious solution, but it is also necessary to create the “soft infrastructure” of information exchange among staff to learn the possibilities of new tech-driven programs and how to execute them.

Privacy and data security: This is an area where libraries and other CENIC members can combine forces. Libraries care deeply about users’ privacy, while perhaps lacking the staff capacity to stay current on a rapidly changing data security landscape. Here libraries’ membership in the CENIC community can be mutually beneficial. Libraries could benefit from the sophistication many research and educational institutions bring to data security, while those institutions could tap into the library field’s sensibilities about privacy. Fostering greater collaboration among CENIC member organizations around privacy and data security should be explored.

Last mile & network silos: The CENIC network runs to libraries’ central branches, but thereafter local network infrastructure is necessary to connect branches. This last mile connection can be a logistical challenge, especially in rural areas, but it is not always the case that a rural library branch is in a network desert. Over the years, the state of California has built dedicated communications for a variety of initiatives, such as telehealth. However, there is usually no way for these networks to connect to CENIC or to be leveraged to help a rural library branch connect to CENIC. This siloed network problem can attenuate the value of the CENIC network. Exploring the legal barriers that have erected these silos should be a priority.

If the siloed network problem can be solved, rural areas have a chance to reap a number of benefits. Already, some rural areas have been able to leverage CENIC and other local networks to improve the connectivity proposition—and not just for libraries. Many local governments and health care facilities would benefit from more bandwidth. Agricultural businesses, in particular, are in critical need of access to sensor networks for water use, soil conditions, and other critical factors, as well as access to global markets for sale of agricultural products.

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