Public library, director both staying on cutting edge

Johnson City Public Library Director Bob Swanay Photo by Jeff Keeling

Johnson City Public Library Director Bob Swanay Photo by Jeff Keeling

By Jeff Keeling

Library patrons don’t give the letters “ILS” a second thought, but they’re often top of mind with Johnson City Public Library (JCPL) Director Bob Swanay.

Fortunately for Swanay – who recently became just the 85th librarian in the country to achieve Certified Public Library Administrator status with the American Library Association’s Allied Professional Association – JCPL has a new ILS, and it’s in fine fettle. New opportunities for patrons already are coming on line thanks to the new system, including the integration of e-books into the catalog.

“You might find the book that you want, but it could be an e-book that you check out at home with your Kindle, or it might be an actual book that you come here and check out at the circulation desk” Swanay said. “For the first time ever we’re integrating those things.”

Short for integrated library system, Johnson City’s current ILS allows for smooth sharing with the Organization of Watauga Libraries (OWL) – a system of 10 Northeast Tennessee libraries who share materials through the system.

The new ILS replaces a system that included the academic libraries at East Tennessee State University and Northeast State Community College. Those libraries’ needs had diverged from the public libraries’, and while the partnership was harmonious, the old software had a lot of bugs and less-than-ideal tech support, Swanay said.

“This is as massive an undertaking as you can choose to do in the library business,” he added.

Swanay isn’t afraid of massive undertakings. He helped lead the previous regional library system, the one that used the old ILS software. The resource and catalog sharing that occurred in that former partnership – which included some aid from the state library system – blew the doors off of interlibrary lending in comparison to the rest of the state.

“We moved hundreds of thousands of books from library to library every year,” said Swanay, who is serving a one-year term as OWL president. “In a typical year, just at Johnson City we’d borrow 20,000 and lend out 10,000 through the consortium.

“The state looked at that and said ‘holy cow, how are they loaning this much material?’ Nowhere else in the state was any library borrowing and loaning as much as we were doing here in Northeast Tennessee.

“They saw that the key was sharing the ILS system, and the state library came up with a statewide shared ILS system, I think directly based on the success that we had here.”

That kind of innovation is what the American Library Association looks for in librarians, Swanay said – and often, technology is at the heart of it. At JCPL, library patrons can now “check out the Internet” by borrowing wifi hotspot devices.

Swanay and his team worked out a deal with Verizon, who gave JCPL 10 devices. The library pays for a data plan on each device. Patrons with a computer or tablet but no Internet subscription can check out a device from two to 14 days at a time. Swanay said he’s trying to make the new offering budget neutral, so the cost is $2 per day.

Of course, “take it anywhere” Internet service for $28 over two weeks isn’t a bad deal.

“A lot of people come here to brush up on resumes,” Swanay said. “They need to get it done that night and the library’s going to close, they can check that out and continue to work on it. There’s a variety of ways it could be used.”

Swanay, who said he was surprised at being one of the first 100 librarians to receive ALA certification, said innovation and technology are critical to operating a successful library. Of seven courses he took to receive certification, one covered current issues and another technology.

“It is absolutely about making sure that you’re on the cutting edge and you’re being effective, and that you have all the tools in place to have a great library. We’re trying to do that.”


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