A Futuristic Library

By Paula Musich  |  Posted 2002-09-02

A Futuristic Library

Imagine a library where you can walk in with your laptop, plug in to an unobtrusive network jack, and access both the librarys resources and the Internet through a common portal.

If the network doesnt yield what youre looking for, a librarian wearing a headset and carrying a personal digital assistant can find a particular book or get the answer in seconds. In the brief time you have to wait, you can interact via streaming video with staff members tending a 15,000-gallon saltwater tank or dial in from the office to a library videoconference that lets you watch your child at story time.

This library of the future, dubbed the Millennium Library, provides patrons in the city of Cerritos, Calif., with networked access to a variety of applications integrated through a portal that patrons say makes information access itself a fun learning experience.

The network for the library, which opened last March, was designed by consultants in Hewlett-Packard Co.s Network Services Practice in collaboration with the citys IT staffers and building contractors. The practice, which is building up its portfolio of intelligent-building projects, took up the challenge of creating a network capable of supporting applications and technologies not yet dreamed up when it signed on to work with the city four years ago.

The idea—to create an e-learning experience for kids and adults—went beyond just providing Internet access to patrons through library kiosks. "We wanted to create a library everyone would enjoy as a gathering place for the community for a shared learning experience," said Fred Ying, MIS manager for city of Cerritos.

Among the bidders for the project, HPs Network Services Practice was the only one that took an end-to-end approach with an architecture that could integrate a variety of applications as they were conceptualized.

"HP created an infrastructure that allowed us to provide computer access to information [and] incorporate other technologies," Ying said. "We put materials on how the buildings environmental control system works on the Web, and people can learn things like how we conserve energy. We have a video camera in the fish tank, so kids can get a sense of being in the water, and we use the network in a way that kids can talk to a caretaker and ask questions."

The practices intelligent-building concept uses Internet-based technology with a common application delivery architecture that allows Internet access, wireless network technology, voice over IP and other technologies to be integrated over a common infrastructure.

"At the top layer, we have a portal with a common user interface for these different technologies, and different clients will plug in different applications for what makes sense," said Mike Phillips, network solutions architect for HPs Network Services Practice, in Seattle. "At the bottom layer is the network access infrastructure that integrates various network technologies [such as broadband, IP, digital subscriber line, and so forth]."

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The intelligent-building offerings are targeted at commercial real estate developers, hotels, schools and planned communities.

HP is among a handful of companies looking to create infrastructures that "more people can use to get connected in a variety of ways," said Mike Haines, an analyst for Gartner Inc., in Omaha, Neb. Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM are also developing such solutions.

For the city of Cerritos, HPs consultants took the lead in coordinating with roughly 150 subcontractors during the buildings construction to ensure the network would support both the educational and building design goals of the library.

"The building itself is very architecturally unique. There are no straight lines. Its all curves. The information flow is like a wave," said Ying.

"It helps enhance the message about making technology pervasive but not invasive," echoed Phillips. "This library has 1,200 Internet connections, but you would be hard pressed to see [them]."

Along with the Internet ports for patrons laptops, the second floor of the library has a section with 200 PCs available for public use. The PCs provide Internet access, Microsoft applications and access to print services. The third floor has a high-tech conference center where each seat has a workstation with a flat-panel screen.

The center has a projection TV for videoconferencing with other locations, which patrons can rent.

The network is made up of HP Procurve switches as well as Cisco routers, Web caching engines, PIX-series firewalls and Ciscos BBSM (Broadband Service Manager).

The BBSM software tracks patrons Internet access and library services use and provides the authentication mechanism activated by smart library cards. The smart cards allow patrons to check out books themselves, enable data and video downloads, and support inventory control.

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