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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 113-108-E
Division Number: III.
Professional Group: Mobile Libraries
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 108.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

The Electronic Bookmobile and the Internet

Mounir Khalil
City College of New York
New York, USA


The quick massive shift to the digital information is forcing libraries to find new roles to play in the information age. This shift is from printed paper to electronic hypertext and multimedia . Naturally, the technology has tremendous impacts on bookmobile services. Let us look at how much impact technology has had on the bookmobile operations in the information age. This paper will discuss the evolution of new mobile library services, which are similar to other library services, along with a special focus on the emerging wireless technologies that will enhance the effectiveness of such a mobile information resources. It is a combination of microcomputers , CD-ROMS, networks (Internet) which presents a mobile learning environment for requesters who can access information uses the Internet and Intranets. Special focus will be on the definition of the Internet and its benefits to the bookmobile services .


Traditionally , people who live in rural areas and without adequate transportation in the poor communities in urban areas are still in need of basic information. Bookmobiles are now capable of providing services more or equal to that available at the small public library branch because of the great advancement in technology. The latter has greatly improved the nature and status of outreach services. Some writers call the new electronic bookmobile, a cybermobile which offers the world of networked information to those who can not afford to access it before. By using wireless technology , the library can be extended to individuals beyond the reach of traditional educational institution. Remote circulation check-in and check-out functions to locate materials in seconds can be provided. The readers need training on how to use microcomputers, navigating the Internet , CD-ROMS and accessing as well as searching the library catalogs and the digital material. The clientele of the electronic bookmobile will no longer have to travel for hours to go to the library to get information.

There are three methods by which electronic information can be accessed from a bookmobile. They are as follows :

  1. CD-ROMS: where CD-Rom readers and printers as computers could be connected to the bookmobile , autos battery or have a separated battery . This system is called stand- alone laptop or have a copy of the integrated library systems (MINISIS) which was developed after CDISIS, which allows the search of any database in a particular country.

  2. If there is a good information infrastructure which allows telephone lines connection, the usage of the Internet for searching for information from any available database in any place in the world is possible. The system offers online circulation and catalog access through the use of packet radio and cellular telephone technology.

  3. Satellites: if there is no electricity or telephone networks satellites are used as communications network. Low orbiting satellite services , such as Iridium from Motorola will offer services to rural areas.

Computer companies, wireless access providers and other library systems vendors maybe asked to contribute to this innovation. Case studies might be presented to show the improvements in the bookmobile services.


For many years bookmobiles of all types and sizes have provided people of all ages with library materials and services. During the past decade this outreach service has been enhanced by the installation of cellular phones, radio data transfer systems enabling the bookmobile to be remotely connected to the main Public Library and exchange information.

Bookmobile travel to remote areas of the country to provide library materials and information services to communities that do not have immediate access to a library or information center is now available. While traditional bookmobiles offer materials and services, the exploitation of information technology- computers , the Internet and the other technological innovations- in this digital age has tremendous impacts on bookmobiles . They can provide now local access to electronic information sources using networks. This vision is based on the beliefs that libraries are learning centers in communities across the country. Those resources enrich those communities and the lives of the individuals who live in them. Bookmobiles are called "Electronic bookmobiles", Cybermobiles, "Electronic Mobile Information Village" which expand the universe for individuals in those communities. They have tremendous potential to support distance learning activities: with print and other resources available to distance learners, along with providing a web of facilities for browsing. This expansion of electronic services will give equal access to technology to all people of the world.

In the United States, President Clinton and Vice-President Gore launched the CyberED truck, a cyber classroom on wheels similar to the bookmobile program, providing with hands-on educational technology and ensure that all schoolchildren have access to the benefits of the communications revolution

What is An Electronic Bookmobile?

The electronic bookmobile is equipped with nine pentium-based computers or laptops and a new state -of-the art of technology videoconferencing, two-way satellite transmission, which is wireless technology to send and receive Internet data. This trailer can travel to rural roads to provide students, business owners, teachers, farmers, government officials and other residents aboutaccess to electronic needed information. The new bookmobiles come with sophisticated wireless technology to send and receive Internet data bouncing from a telecommunications satellite 22,000 miles over the equator. Grants came from Bell Atlantic, AT & T , Dell Computers, Intel, ACS Dataline.

The bookmobile could have many applications depending on community profiles and needs. Another mobile goes to the business with stops scheduled at commercial enterprises and could have a number of businesses database. Schools without libraries could benefit from a mobile set up as an electronic learning center with microcomputers, and other resources for special projects.Because public libraries are know for their three basic types of public library functions which are: educational, informational and recreational. Some people call public libraries " the Peoples' University".

Technical Options Available for Connections from Bookmobiles:

There are many ways to connect a remote PC on the bookmobile to the central server via the following:

  1. Radio is used to connect the bookmobile to the Main Public Library by using the open telephone lines via headquarters, which would allow access to external online services and databases.

  2. Cellular Telephones would allow access to data and voice between the bookmobile and the library.

  3. Satellite or Mobile Satellite Services : there will be some satellites technologies from a variety of companies that will help solve that rural access problem.

  4. Telephone Lines using the mobile library into a telephone outlet in a nearby building. this allows connection to the Internet through dialups.

What is the Internet?:

The most powerful technological vehicle for disseminating information and increasing public awareness is the Internet. The Internet allows persons to access information on more than 50,000 computer networks around the world and to communicate with anyone who is a member of those networks. Most individuals lack the training and expertise to use these networks. Now , there is (World Wide Web-WWW) which is a set of programs that run on the Internet that makes it easy for individuals to access and use the information that is stored on the Internet. The text or graphics in the Web document can be hypertext linked to other documents. WWW makes it easy for persons to download and print files from other computer networks , run other programming on other computer systems without having to learn about software that make everything possible.

The costs of basic computer hardware and software continue to drop. In addition, individuals can access the Internet through their televisions. More than 47 million people can have access to the Internet. It has the real powers and the capacity to educate large segments of the population at little cost.

The disparity between the electronic "haves" and " have nots" is more troubling because surveys indicate that access to the Internet is unequal based on race, gender, wealth and education levels . In the United States of America , the survey showed that the medium income of Web Users is $ 59.500 found Web users 90% are White, and only 5% are African American . Women only constituted 35% of users.

Theoretically , individuals can access the Internet from the public libraries and also now bookmobiles if they are connected still have the access to the same information like those persons who owns computers and have access to the Internet at home. There is a proposal that some U.S. Postal Service vehicles will be called 21ST Century bookmobiles to provide the Internet access to the communities that do not have it.

Increased sites of access to the Internet will be meaningless , unless individuals can be trained or received training on the mechanics of Internet use. Therefore, some governments are budgeting millions of dollars toward funding the Internet access and education for schools . Private institutions are also contributing time and money to this effort.

However, technological advances that are expected in the next few years should greatly increase the speed at which the public can access the Internet without additional increases in cost.

Information has become a critical part of successful economic development for individuals, business and communities. Lack of access to information was at least partially responsible for rural inability to keep up with urban increases in population, high-wage occupations, income, and education levels .

With more funding for infrastructure and human capital improvements, more bookmobiles could serve as links in improving rural access to the information highway and knowledge transported on that highway. This will decrease their isolation, increase their connectedness and affect their prosperity through the innovative use of new technologies.

The Internet is expected to do no less than transform society to overcome the isolation for remote areas and underdeveloping countries in order to provide users with timely access to information resources.

Income and education drive several key policy questions surrounding the use of the Internet and web browsing.

In developing countries , there are important reasons for using the international telecommunications : undependable telephones , unreliable postal system, wide distances, and expensive airfares . The use of packet radio has provided these countries with electronic information.

Also, costs and financial constraints are major problems facing libraries in order to provide funds for bookmobiles. In addition, there is a general lack of training among librarians to support the use of information technology. Overall, increasing levels of education are needed to promote computer accesses and Web use. The Internet may provide equal opportunity and democratic communication , but only for those with access.


There must be a Task Force with IFLA to develop an action plan to modernize all bookmobiles with electronic access information with the support from partnerships with private and public institutions to offer such services. Children living in remote areas attending local schools have a very different experience . Here there are no opportunities to go to libraries to browse the Internet . Nowadays bookmobile trips can make more stops in rural areas because most children already travel hours just to get to schools, and no influx of new students brings in new ideas. Government officials who must work to bring the information age to those communities. There are a lots of corporations that can denote hundreds of computers for use, but the problem is those communities lack basic electrical and communication hookups. It is totally unacceptable and unnecessary to leave those communities deprived from accessing electronic information to meet their needs. In addition, IFLA must support and fund such projects related to the Cyber Mobile. The Bill Gates Foundation gave public libraries in the United States grants based on their interests in pursuing their visions because there are many citizens who do not have access to online information and other interests.


To make collaborations with other agencies to deliver information to the majority of the population which remains rural and illiterates. Telecommunications infrastructure such as faxes, phone lines, computers, and satellites that stretch around the globe will link individuals effectively and efficiently in order to improve the quality of mobile library services to citizens. Some vendors could be approached for feasibility study or experiment , such as Bill Gates Foundation , UMI, ISI,Uncover, EI, Wiley, Prentice-Hall,…etc.

Bill Gates provides grants designed to expand public access to computers and the Internet. The goal of the foundation is that " anybody who can get to the library can get to the Internet, with a training on helping citizens how to merge the information highway. The foundation has made a commitment of $400 million for equipment, training and software for libraries in the United States and Canada over 5 years. ( American Libraries Issue ( April, 1998).


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