New York State Library

Division of Library Development

Regents Advisory Council on Libraries

The Joseph F. Shubert Library Excellence Award 2001

Four County Library System, Vestal


1. Briefly describe your library consortium (system) and its community: size, budget, type, users.

Four County Library System in Vestal was established in 1960 under the education laws of New York State. Our 35 full- and part-time staff provide comprehensive library services to 42 public libraries in Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Otsego Counties -a largely rural territory more than three times the size of the state of Delaware, with a population of nearly 400,000 residents. Our annual budget is $2.75 million. Services include:

  • Electronic automation
  • Outreach
  • Youth Programs
  • Professional assistance
  • Grantwriting
  • Continuing education
  • Delivery
  • Technical services
  • Collection management
  • Advocacy & public relations

Briefly describe your project.

The Cybermobile project is believed to be the first in the world to bring books plus satellite-linked Internet access to geographically isolated residents. It serves those living in some of New York's smallest towns and villages. This one-of-a-kind project includes a custom- designed 37-foot vehicle with 1.2-meter controllable rooftop satellite-dish antenna, a 2.4-meter fixed antenna at Four County Library System, and full-time satellite access with 100% closed network capability. In the field, the Cybermobile links via satellite with the System's network; there the Internet connection is made and the vehicle's onboard computers brought online.

Graphic of Four County's Cybermobile. Click on the image to find out more about the Cybermobile.

The high-tech Cybermobile replaces a 13-year-old bookmobile that logged 175,000 miles. The new vehicle brings cost-effective service to residents, enabling them to access the Internet, the regional library catalog, and virtually the entire spectrum of electronic resources. It also opens the door to teleconferencing and online or distance learning opportunities. In addition, Four County Library System is exploring collaborative partnerships with corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations that can help deliver other value-added services in fields such as workforce development, health care, and youth programs. The Cybermobile also delivers books, books-on-tape, and large-print books. An electric lift enables wheelchair access, and there is a portable folding wheelchair on board.

2. How did you interact with your users/constituency to identify the need(s) for your project?

Analysis of ongoing reports in the media, NYS Department of Labor statistics, survey findings of regional Chambers of Commerce, and information from other well-regarded resources show beyond any doubt that the central-upstate New York territory served by Four County Library System still suffers from the effects of an economic decline that began in the mid-1980s. Unlike the rest of the country, unemployment is still above the national average, and an untold number of people are underemployed.

Moreover, these problems are compounded by the fact that more than one-third of the residents of this rural, mountainous region do not have a local public library and access to the resources that most people take for granted -- particularly the Internet. Therefore, the need for a "cyber-capable" outreach vehicle was readily apparent, and it was further confirmed in discussions with patrons of our bookmobile -- an outreach service Four County has provided since 1963.

However, to bring the Internet and the next generation of knowledge to those residing in a sparsely populated, 4,000-square-mile territory sliced by the foothills of the Adirondacks and Catskills -- a region where there are no Internet or cellular phone service providers and even landline-based telephone service can be limited -- a unique approach to the application of Internet technology was required.

3. What did your library or library consortium (system) do to meet that (those) need(s)? What challenges were met?

Given the terrain and geographic challenges we faced, it quickly became apparent that the only practical method for connecting with the Internet from the nearly 60 sites visited by the Cybermobile was via satellite. However, this method had never before been used by a public library.

After in-depth consultations with a Rochester-based global communications services provider, satellite linkage was shown to be the most cost-effective method for ongoing delivery of mobile Internet access. It is the method chosen time and again by global companies and the U.S. military for efficiently serving remote, geographically isolated locations like these.

Fundraising for the $300,000 Cybermobile project followed a simple and straightforward approach: We used a direct appeal based solely on the tangible benefits of the project and its match with the fields of interest and geographic boundaries of potential funding sources. Our focus was directed toward:

Grantwriting was specifically targeted at foundations that met one or both of the requirements above. Also important was personal contact -- face-to-face visits, letters, and phone calls -- with elected officials who serve the four-county region, including legislators at the federal, state, county, and town levels.

Four County Library System also has had a long-standing partnership with the rural counties we serve (which assist with operating costs), and we were successful in approaching a local advertising agency/graphic design firm, which generously donated its time and expertise to create our new Four County Library System logo and develop the graphics that appear on the Cybermobile.

Today, our new Cybermobile is a dramatic improvement on the traditional bookmobile. It is the only library vehicle in the world using proven, cost-effective, satellite-linked technology to enable unemployed, underemployed or geographically isolated four-county residents to interactively access the Internet.

4. What impact did this project have on your users and/or your community? Supply quantifiable data if appropriate.

Although the new Cybermobile has been in service for only four months, residents of the rural towns and villages it serves now can access -free of charge -the same resources available in a traditional bricks-and-mortar public library. It delivers real-time, satellite- linked access to the Internet and to Four County Library System's central computer and its wealth of electronic resources and services. The Cybermobile's Internet technology package offers patrons:

  1. Brief setup and quick connection times
  2. Maximum service efficiency with six powerful notebook computers
  3. Rapid output of hard-copy information with two high-quality printers

With its on-board, 100% satellite-linked computers, the Cybermobile is an excitingly unique and incredibly effective way to use today's technology to meet the needs of those who are geographically isolated, unserved by a local library, or otherwise at a disadvantage. The Cybermobile is opening the door to myriad electronic resources, including distance learning, teleconferencing, national and statewide resources, CD-ROMs, and numerous databases.

With the new Cybermobile, our rural neighbors now have access to such things as:

Job-seekers and those striving to enhance and advance their careers are able to:

In short, the Cybermobile's technology empowers these four-county residents to join in and remain competitive in today's electronic work environment. Historically, our mobile public library has circulated more materials each year -- to the smallest communities in the region -- than three-fourths of our member libraries. With the new Cybermobile and its remarkable capability to deliver Internet access to New Yorkers in remote areas unserved by any libraries, usage will grow even further. As we move forward, the following evaluation measures will be applied to the Cybermobile, which will enable us to further tailor services to best meet the needs of our users:

Quantitative Measures

Qualitative Measures

Go to the Four County Library System web site for further information about the Cybermobile.

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