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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > November/December 2007

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Vol. 27 No. 10 — Nov/Dec 2007
FEATURE
Internet2 and Libraries
Serving Your Communities at the Speed of Light
by James Werle and Louis Fox

If your Internet ­limitations disappeared, how could it change your library’s role in the community?
On a hot Missouri day in September 2001, a road crew finished the delicate process of setting blasting caps into bundles of dynamite along a lonely stretch of road outside of Springfield. When the dynamite was detonated, instead of filling the sky, the earth dropped suddenly, disappearing into a massive void. After quickly scrambling over rocky terrain, the crew arrived at the opening and peered inside. They saw what appeared to be the bones of snakes, tortoises, and other small mammals littering the floor. They also saw claw marks and hair impressions from prehistoric bears scratched into the clay. The crew had just discovered what became known as the Riverbluff Cave, one of the most important Ice Age fossil sites in North America.

Annie Busch leads the Springfield-Greene County Library, which serves a quarter of a million people in the Springfield, Mo., metropolitan area. The library system enjoys excellent connectivity to the Internet through the Missouri Research and Education Network (MOREnet), the state’s venerable education network. Because MOREnet is connected to Internet2, one of our nation’s next-generation research and education networks, all of the libraries in Springfield-Greene County also have access to Internet2. We’ll come back to the topic of Internet2 in a moment.

Sensing the compelling nature of the road crew’s discovery, Annie began considering ways to provide programming that would satisfy her patrons’ growing curiosity about the cave. She found out that longtime collaborator, Bill Giddings, the director of education and library programs at MOREnet, was working on a plan to pepper the cave with remotely controlled cameras connected to the state education network via fiber-optic cables. After several years of creative cross-sector collaboration, tenacious effort, and a combination of cost-sharing, in-kind labor, and local business donations, the cave wiring project was complete. This was the first step.

When Annie heard that local author David Harrison was writing a book about the cave, she knew they had to do an event at the library that would connect the literacy, technology, and science pieces of this local treasure together.

On April 14, 2007, the library hosted a book signing for David Harrison, author of Cave Detectives: Unraveling the Mystery of an Ice Age Cave. During the event, Harrison and the 175 attendees at the library were able to interact live, via advanced Internet-based videoconferencing, with lead paleontologist Matt Forir and his assistant Lisa McCann from their locations within the clay-coated chambers of the cave. The video from the event was also streamed live over Internet2 so other libraries, schools, museums, and science centers from around the country (and the world!) could tune in.

We share Annie’s story as an example of how a few of the more than 50,000 innovative and forward-looking public, school, and academic libraries are beginning to use their access to Internet2 to thoughtfully integrate advanced-networking-enabled applications into the lives of their libraries, and thus the lives of the community members they serve. As representatives of the Internet2 community, we welcome this opportunity to explore with you the implications of advanced networking in libraries.

Internet2: Lighting Up Tomorrow’s Internet

Formed in 1996, Internet2 is a not-for-profit advanced network consortium led by the U.S. research and higher education community. Its goals are to provide leading-edge network capabilities and to facilitate the development, deployment, and use of revolutionary Internet technologies. Starting with 34 universities, Internet2 has grown to more than 300 members, including more than 200 U.S. universities working in cooperation with 70 leading corporations, 45 government agencies, laboratories, and other research institutions.

We are the director (Louis) and associate director (James) of National Internet2 K20 Initiative, which brings together Internet2 member institutions and innovators from primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, libraries, and museums to extend the benefits of new technologies to all educational sectors. So it’s important to us to spread the word about the availability of Internet2.

One important feature of Internet2 is that it interconnects numerous state and regional research and education networks via a national backbone network. Another important feature is that it also connects to more than 50 international advanced networking efforts. What the consortium has created is a global, noncommercial education network, which enables unprecedented levels of collaboration across all education sectors, both within the U.S. and around the world.

The regular (or “commodity”) Internet was not designed to handle the huge amount of data transfer, the explosive numbers of users, or the interactive, media-rich applications commonly used today. For applications where reliability is critical and delay is unacceptable—such as with real-time streaming events, access to remote instrumentation, high-definition videoconferencing, online gaming, and interactive immersive worlds and simulations—the commodity Internet is inadequate. Research and education networks like the Internet2 network were purpose-built by the research and education community to offer the performance, speed, and advanced services that allow these applications to thrive.

With fewer users and a backbone made entirely of fiber-optic cables, Internet2 is capable of moving data thousands of times faster with more consistent levels of performance than the commodity Internet. For example, it would take about 3 seconds to download a DVD-quality movie on the 100-Gbps Internet2 backbone as opposed to 6.5 hours with a T-1 connection and 25 hours on a DSL or cable modem. Internet2 allows librarians to think beyond the current limitations imposed by the commodity Internet and to consider new ways to deliver digital services. This has clear implications for those embracing the principles of a user-centered, multimedia-rich, socially engaged, and community-innovative library embodied by Library 2.0.

Extending Access, Accelerating Innovation

It took nearly 25 years for the Internet to be diffused beyond the research community into the educational mainstream. Leaders in the academic research and technology community saw an opportunity with Internet2 to engage a broader community in the development of the next-generation Internet much closer to “launch.” By putting tomorrow’s technologies into the hands of as many innovators and educational sectors as quickly and as “connectedly” as possible, the Internet2 consortium hopes to accelerate the cycle of innovation and to provide the broader educational community with an opportunity to shape the content, services, and applications of the next-generation Internet.

Toward that end, the Internet2 consortium launched the Internet2 K20 Initiative in 2001 to extend network access to public libraries, K–12 schools, baccalaureate colleges and universities, community colleges, and a host of cultural organizations such as museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, and performing arts centers. The approach developed to connect the broader education community to Internet2 is known as the Sponsored Education Group Participant (SEGP) program. Research universities that are Internet2 members sponsor the Internet2 connectivity of entire state or regional education networks from across the U.S. In turn, all the educational organizations (libraries, K–12 schools, etc.) connected to the sponsored networks are also connected to Internet2. With more than 50,000 academic, school, and public libraries currently connected to Internet2 via the SEGP program, libraries are an important part of the Internet2 revolution. See the map of the existing SEGP states (below) and the “Is My Library Connected to Internet2?” sidebar for more information.

We must emphasize that Internet2 connectivity is not a magic bullet. No matter how fast the Internet2 backbone operates, an individual institution’s capacity is limited by the weakest link in the connectivity chain. A 1.54-Mbps connection to a state or regional education network does not provide a library with sufficient bandwidth to take full advantage of the 100-Gbps Internet2 network further down the line. While connectivity to Internet2 opens up a world of opportunity for libraries, it also elevates the need to address these “last mile” challenges and to reassess how libraries define broadband in an advanced-network-enabled world.

Some Next-Generation Network Usage Scenarios

Patron information needs and consumption habits are shifting and evolving as rapidly as the enabling digital technology. Every day we hear the noise about relevancy and the growing obsolescence of the library in the digital world. As librarians, we’re increasingly compelled to reflect upon what we do better than other information organizations in our society. As we begin considering a few advanced-networking usage scenarios, reflect on how the role of library in your community would change if many of the limitations imposed by the commodity Internet were to disappear. How would that transform the way you were able to serve your community?

Below are a few ideas on how librarians can use Internet2 connectivity to build upon their core strengths and to heighten their increasing roles within communities. What else can you imagine?

Libraries as access points for rich multimedia collections and immersive virtual educational worlds: Advanced networks excel at the efficient delivery of video, audio, images, and other rich multimedia content.

  • Research1 is a new social networking service offered by the ResearchChannel that allows researchers to collaborate with peers and to share information and digital media with the general public. ResearchChannel is also experimenting with delivering HD-quality video over Internet2.
  • The Library of Congress, home to many of our nation’s most treasured cultural artifacts (including photographs and other graphic materials, sound recordings, films, maps, manuscripts, music items, and ephemera in more than 460 languages, ranging in date from 2040 B.C. to the present), is leveraging its connection to Internet2 to reliably deliver bandwidth-intensive files in seconds rather than minutes or hours. The LC is collaborating with the Internet2 community on several of its wide-scale digital preservation projects.
  • KEXP 90.3 FM in Seattle, Wash., is an award-winning, variety-mix broadcast radio station owned by the University of Washington. KEXP’s real-time playlist is the first of its kind: Its uncompressed, CD-quality streaming audio and 14-day broadcast archive are made possible by DigitalWell, an Internet2-hosted asset management system that provides easy ways to acquire, collect, classify, store, and deliver large collections of digital media over IP-based networks. KEXP is looking for ways to partner with libraries to make its unique collection of high-fidelity live performances and programming more discoverable through library OPACs.
  • The explosive growth in popularity of immersive 3-D multiplayer online gaming and virtual world environments, such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, offer further evidence of how emerging networked technologies will continue to change the way we experience information, learn, and socialize in the 21st century. Internet2 is precisely the environment where educational versions of these new applications will thrive—applications once impossible for libraries to consider because of bandwidth constraints. Embracing Internet2 and these new forms of learning and social interaction offer entrepreneurial libraries an additional opportunity to fulfill their role as places of learning and community gathering spaces in this brave new digital world.  

Public libraries as local history repositories: Libraries have always been places to preserve and provide access to the historical and cultural record of the communities they serve. From a teenager wanting to share the music from his local indie-rock band to a grandmother with a shoe box full of pictures and a lifetime of local history to share, a library can use Internet2 to strengthen its role as a collection point for local history—a place to digitize, record, edit, describe, and host cultural and historical artifacts from the community. An advanced network’s low latency and superior capacity to store, organize, and deliver high-fidelity images, audio, and video make the Internet2 community an attractive partner.

Libraries as distance learning centers: People look to libraries as places to pursue both formal and informal learning opportunities. Traditional correspondence courses have been replaced by increasingly media-rich and interactive online learning experiences. Internet2 is enabling the delivery of ever-more-sophisticated course content including streaming video, audio, remote-instrumentation, virtual laboratories and simulations, and real-time collaboration. Libraries are uniquely positioned to serve as access points for these media-rich, next-generation online courses.

Videoconferencing to connect our staff and communities with a world of experiences and expertise: Perhaps one of the most compelling implications for libraries is how the Internet2 network, coupled with the advanced videoconferencing services it enables, is capable of eliminating the traditional barriers imposed by time and distance to bring people together in revolutionary ways.

  • After 9/11, the children of Stuyvesant High School in New York held a videoconference with children in a downtown high school in Oklahoma City to talk about their experiences. Other such opportunities might include joint meetings of sister-city councils, virtual town halls where the community connects with its elected representatives, international book club discussion meetings, virtual job interviews, and family connections. The possibilities are endless.
  • In Maryland, the Enoch Pratt Free Library is leading the Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage Project, bringing together museums, historical societies, public libraries, and academic and government institutions to focus on identifying, organizing, and digitizing materials and planning virtual tours.
  • Imagine a network of experts available over Internet2 who could be scheduled to address a specific community need. Rural farmers could have one-on-one conferences with university extension officers via the local public library; city managers could get together to discuss issues; small-business owners could confer with experts from the Small Business Administration. Community healthcare organizations could use library facilities to provide health information to patrons at other libraries.
  • Videoconferencing opens doors for staff as well as patrons. With a large percentage of our country’s libraries located in rural and remote areas, how often do staff members miss out on professional development opportunities because the workshops are too far away or too expensive to attend in person? Using Internet2 and videoconferencing, libraries could afford to bring professional development experiences to their employees in a timely manner. Workshops can be offered at one location and multicast over Internet2 to a variety of viewing centers.

Inspiring and Empowering Libraries

As our patrons continue to become more sophisticated users of technology they will need libraries to be more than access points for digital information or printed pages. The most powerful libraries of the future will be technology-agnostic, providing access to information and knowledge regardless of format.

The story of Annie Busch and the River­bluff Cave discovery has shown us what is possible when strong, forward-looking leadership and robust connectivity converge inside a library. Print, digital, audio, video, and human experiences and expertise can all combine with advanced networking to transform the library into a symphony of community learning. We hope Annie’s example will help inspire you to consider how libraries can take further advantage of Internet2 to infuse meaningful next-generation Internet technologies into the communities you serve.

Finally, for all of its ability to move bits and bytes around at the speed of light, what makes Internet2 transformative is not the physical network, but the network of innovators it enables. We invite librarians to join this network of innovation as we develop the revolutionary digital content, services, and learning opportunities that will continue to define and shape the future of the Internet and libraries.

Is My Library Connected to Internet2?

  • The quickest way to determine if your institution has connectivity to Internet2 is to run the Internet2 Detective JAVA applet. It will provide data on the speed of your connection and whether you have multicast capability (for videoconferencing and other rich media). Be aware that firewalls can impact the accuracy of the test (learn more at the Internet2 Detective Web site, http://detective.internet2.edu). Contact James Werle if you have any problems running the test.
  • If you are from an academic library at a research university, consult the Internet2 member directory (www.internet2.edu/membership/categories) to find out if your institution is a member of the Internet2 consortium.
  • If you are from a public or school library in one of the yellow states on the map, and your institution connects to the Internet via your state education network, then you may already be one of the estimated 50,000 organizations also connected to Internet2! Contact either of us if you have any questions.

State Education Networks Connected to Internet2

States colored yellow have state education networks that offer connectivity to Internet2. Find out how your library connects to the Internet. You may already be connected to Internet2 and not know it!

(Source: Internet2 K20 Initiative.)

Internet2 Connectivity Data
Educational Organizations Connected to Internet2 via the Internet2 K20 Initiative as of March 2006*
  Number Connected
K–12 Schools 35,890
Public Libraries 3,325
Four-Year Colleges & Universities 1,004
Community Colleges 679
Museums, Historical & Cultural Centers 83
Public Radio, Television & Streaming Media 40
Science Centers , Planetariums & Observatories 36
Performing Arts Centers 25
Zoos & Aquariums 12
TOTAL 41,094
Source: Internet2 K20 Initiative Connectivity Survey

*NOTE: These numbers were collected before the Florida, Delaware, and Tennessee education networks connected to Internet2. As of late 2007, the total number of connected organizations is estimated to be closer to 50,000.

Getting Involved

  • Join the Internet2 muse (http://k20.internet2.edu), a social networking site designed to connect people from across the formal and informal education community around advanced-networking-enabled projects and applications. Muse can put you in touch with other librarians interested in Internet2.
  • Learn more about how your library is connected to the Internet. Become an advocate for expanding broadband connectivity so that libraries can take full advantage of Internet2 capabilities.
  • Share your ideas about how Internet2 can be used in libraries. Blog about it!
  • Help represent libraries in the Internet2 community. Become a member of the Internet2 K20 Initiative Advisory Committee. Contact the authors for more information on how to participate.

To Learn More

Internet2
www.internet2.edu

Internet2 K20 Initiative
http://k20.internet2.edu

KEXP
www.kexp.org

Digital Well
www.digitalwell.org

Research1

www.research1.org

ResearchChannel

www.researchchannel.org

Riverbluff Cave

www.riverbluffcave.com

Springfield -Greene County Library

http://thelibrary.springfield.missouri.org

Internet2 Detective

http://detective.internet2.edu


James Werle is director of special projects in Computing & Communications at the University of Washington in Seattle. He also serves as the associate director of the National Internet2 K20 Initiative. Werle has been formally trained in the dark arts of the library profession, receiving his M.L.I.S. from the University of Washington’s Information School. His email address is jwerle@u.washington.edu.

Louis Fox
serves as a research professor at the Information School and associate vice president of Computing & Communications at the University of Washington. He has conspired with librarians many times over the course of his 25-year career there. Fox is also the director of the National Internet2 K20 Initiative. His email address is lfox@internet2.edu.

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