Technology Plan

NWLS Technology and Resource Sharing Plan

July 1, 2010 - June 30, 2013


Wisconsin statute s.43.24(2)(m) requires public library systems to participate in “planning with the division and with participating public libraries and other types of libraries in the area in regard to library technology and the sharing of resources.”  Library technology plans must be submitted to the state at least once every five years.

The federal e-rate program requires libraries to create and update approved technology plans at least once every three years in order to receive telecommunications discounts.  The same requirement is true for libraries that participate in the state TEACH program, which offers subsidized high-speed Internet connections.  Approved public library system plans may be used to fulfill this requirement for member libraries if the system plan supports and validates the e-rate eligible services used by the member libraries and the plan is developed in collaboration with the member libraries.  This Technology and Resource Sharing Plan meets these requirements, assuring that NWLS member libraries are eligible to participate in the federal e-rate and state TEACH programs.


Northern Waters Library Service was established in 1973 by Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Sawyer, Vilas, and Washburn counties.  The state of Wisconsin encouraged formation of public library systems such as NWLS in order to improve public library service and to make it available to all residents of the state.  These two goals are reflected in the NWLS Mission Statement: “The mission of Northern Waters Library Service is to provide access to quality public library services through its member libraries.”

Demographic Information

Eleven of the system’s twenty-eight member libraries are located in communities of fewer than 1,000 people; nine libraries are located in communities with a population of 1,000 – 1,999; five libraries serve communities with a population between 2,000 and 3,999.  The three remaining libraries are Vaughn Public Library in Ashland, which has a population of 8,534; Olson Memorial Library, a joint library located in Eagle River serving a population of 14,145; and Superior Public Library with a population of 27,100.  

While diversity is low in raw numbers, the NWLS area is home to 19.8% of the state’s Native American population and NWLS serves four tribal libraries.  The poverty level in the NWLS area is generally higher than the State of Wisconsin as a whole.  46% of students in the NWLS area attending public schools receive free or reduced lunches.  There is a great disparity throughout the NWLS region in this commonly used measure of poverty.  The Hurley School District reports the lowest percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches at 15% and the Lac du Flambeau School District reports the highest percentage at 83%. Statewide, 37% of public school students receive free or reduced lunches.


NWLS ranks near its population ranking of 15th on the raw data for a number of measures.  Adjusting for population, the system generally ranks higher when per capita measures are compared.  Several of the measures were particularly striking.  NWLS libraries ranked fifth in the State in total non-resident circulation, third in video materials per capita, ninth in audio materials per capita, and second in annual hours open.

As reported in the 2008 Wisconsin Library Service Record, there is significant variation in the budgets, collections, and staff levels and services provided by NWLS member libraries.  The tables in Appendix A compare individual system libraries on several measures.  Per capita results are based on municipal population figures.

Current Services

The role of technology in public libraries continues to grow in importance, especially in resource sharing.  The advent of shared integrated library systems (ILS) in Wisconsin has led to rapid growth in borrowing between libraries. Thanks to Merlin, the shared ILS of NWLS, not only is resource sharing increasing rapidly, but also more requests than ever before are being filled within the system.  The graphs below show the growth of NWLS area resource sharing.

In January 2000, Superior Public Library became the first Merlin member to go live.  By the end of that year, a total of nine libraries and Northern Waters Library Service were participating in the shared ILS.  Today, 26 of 28 NWLS member libraries are full participants in Merlin.

Merlin operates using Innovative Interfaces, Inc. (III) software.  It offers central bibliographic and patron databases for its members, an online public access catalog (OPAC) available via the Internet, overdue and reserve functions, and a wide variety of report capabilities.  Merlin Consortium members receive support through NWLS, including training and troubleshooting.

In 2005, NWLS began supporting the Pharos Internet management system for libraries that choose to use it.  Using III’s Patron API module, Pharos users are able to automate Internet sign-up using the Merlin patron database to authenticate users.

NWLS provides complete support for a wide variety of software and hardware, including ordering, set-up and installation, maintenance, and training.  Member libraries pay for their hardware and software.  NWLS staff costs are primarily borne by the system, but the Merlin Consortium pays a share of staff costs for network administration.

All but one of the 29 NWLS member libraries belong to the Merlin wide-area network (WAN).  The LCO College Community Library is served by the LCO tribal network.  Merlin WAN members receive subsidized high-speed data circuits through the state TEACH program.  The WAN is managed by system staff for the benefit of member libraries.  This is an ongoing activity with no end date. In addition, NWLS provides e-mail, antivirus, security, and web hosting services.

NWLS provides its members a variety of other technology-based services.  These include:
•  Online databases such as Ancestry Library Edition (genealogy) and LearningExpress Library (education, jobs).
•  Electronic and downloadable audio, eBooks and videos through netLibrary and OverDrive.  NWLS is a member of the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium, through which it provides these services.
•  Resource sharing through WISCAT and WorldCat in addition to Merlin.

Planning Environment

This plan was drafted by Interlibrary Loan Librarian Linda Bailen, Network Administrator Mike Sauvola, Database Manager Mike Sheehan, Office Manager Linda Stobbe and Director Jim Trojanowski.  All are staff members of Northern Waters Library Service.

Member library directors provided input to the plan at a Directors Meeting held in February, 2010, and completed a technology survey in April, 2010.  Results of the survey are located in Appendix B.

Goals, Objectives and Activities

Goal 1: Support NWLS library technology
Objective:  To provide quick, efficient technical support to member libraries
1.    Provide sufficient training to NWLS staff to allow them to adequately train and support member library staff
2.    Provide technical assistance to member library staff for services outlined in the NWLS Plan of Service
3.    Provide technical assistance to member libraries
4.    Utilize network-monitoring software for remote diagnosis and repair of problems at libraries on the WAN
5.    Use e-mail, the NWLS web site, and other appropriate technologies to provide technical support
6.    Provide opportunities for member library staff to evaluate technical support

Goal 2: Evaluate and implement new information technology for improved and more efficient services for patrons

Objective 2a:  To ensure that NWLS technology and telecommunications equipment is current and meets the needs of member libraries
1.    Monitor developments in library information technology and consult with member library staff in choosing which to implement
2.    Assure adequate bandwidth for NWLS and member libraries to meet growing patron demand
3.    Work with member libraries on the installation, implementation, and budgeting for new technology

Objective 2b:  To continue development of the NWLS website
1.    Update the website regularly
2.    Seek feedback for improvements from member library staff
3.    Add interactive form capability to the website
4.    Provide free web hosting space to member libraries

Objective 2c:  To provide consulting service to member libraries
1.    Assist member libraries in:
a.    Planning automation projects
b.    Utilizing Internet and other information technology
c.    Working with community partners to maintain and improve local telecommunications infrastructure and multi-party cooperation
2.    Support the technology aspects of NWLS activities in the annual NWLS Plan of Service

Goal 3: Improve resource sharing within NWLS and between NWLS and other state and regional libraries and library agencies through the use of information technology

Objective 3a:  To maintain and expand NWLS and member library resource sharing activities
1.    Support technology necessary to carry out the interlibrary loan and reference and referral elements of the NWLS Plan of Service
2.    Explore opportunities to develop new projects for sharing between NWLS member libraries and other partners

Objective 3b:  To expand patron use of Merlin
1.    Promote the use of Merlin by library patrons
2.    Train school staff and other groups to use Merlin

Objective 3c:  To participate in statewide and regional resource sharing activities
1.    Work with state and regional libraries and library agencies to develop new resource sharing projects
2.    Participate in Wisconsin Public Library Consortium programs

Goal 4: Improve the use of information technology for training and technical assistance for staff

Objective 4a:  To provide training in information technology for member libraries
1.    Provide training for library staff
2.    Provide training workshops
3.    Work with member libraries to provide patron training in the use of information technology
4.    Use affordable methods to conduct online training sessions

Objective 4b:  To maintain and improve NWLS information technology infrastructure
1.    Follow the NWLS equipment replacement schedule
2.    Add new infrastructure as appropriate

Goal 5: Continue development of Merlin

Objective 5a:  To improve the usability of Merlin
1.    Install Merlin software enhancements
2.    Send NWLS representatives to Innovative Users Group meetings
3.    Provide NWLS libraries with software and technical support, repair, and testing services for WAN connections
4.    Evaluate the need for equipment upgrades including: servers, routers, switches, workstations, and other WAN/LAN equipment
5.    Work with the Merlin Consortium to implement the necessary upgrades of servers, routers, switches, workstations, and other WAN/LAN equipment
6.    Work with the Merlin Consortium to monitor bandwidth usage to ensure adequate bandwidth for member library services.
7.    Customize the Merlin OPAC and add new capabilities for patrons

Objective 5b:  To plan for the future of Merlin
1.    Evaluate new information technologies for possible application to Merlin operations and implement them in consultation with member library staff
2.    Encourage expansion of Merlin through the addition of new members

Goal 6: Maintain the infrastructure, hardware, and software support necessary for member libraries to provide a comprehensive program of technology-based services

Objective:  To provide a complete program of information technology services
1.    Manage licensing, addressing, and email service
2.    Provide centrally controlled antivirus, adware, and spyware protection for member libraries
3.    Use remote troubleshooting and repair software to provide cost-effective technical support to member libraries
4.    Provide on-site infrastructure, hardware, and software support as necessary
5.    Explore and, in consultation with member library staff, implement new infrastructure, hardware, and software


The following 2010 budget information provides an example of the revenue that NWLS will use and the expenditures that NWLS will make to accomplish the technology and resource sharing activities described in this plan.

2010 Budgeted Income by Source:

2010 State Aid - $569,715
2009 Carryover - $19,600
Federal LSTA - $91,045
Merlin Consortium - $167,866
Member Counties - $195,336
Total Income - $1,043,562

The majority of activities contained in this plan are financed from the NWLS Interlibrary Loan, Merlin, Technology and Cooperative Cataloging programs.  The Merlin program includes activities involved in operating the Merlin shared automated system.  The 2007 budget and detailed information for all technology related programs follow.

• Salaries, Payroll Taxes, Fringe Benefits: Included are the costs for 5.15 FTEs.  Currently nine employees spend time on these programs.  (Position / FTE NWLS Technology and Resource Sharing Programs)

  • Database Manager / 1 FTE
  • Network Administrator / 1 FTE
  • Network Assistant / 1 FTE
  • Circulation Coordinator / .5 FTE
  • Director / .05 FTE
  • Interlibrary Loan Librarian / .7 FTE
  • Database Assistant / .6 FTE
  • Office Manager / .05 FTE

• Building Mortgage: 74% of the building mortgage is allocated to NWLS technology and resource sharing programs.

• Building Maintenance: 43% of building maintenance is allocated to NWLS technology and resource sharing programs. 

• Library Contracts and Reimbursement: The cost of the resource library contract is allocated to these programs.

• Internet Service Provider:  The cost of WiscNet Internet service is charged to these programs.

• BadgerNet T-1 Lines:  The cost of all T-1 lines for all libraries on the NWLS WAN are charged to these programs.

• Telecommunications:  This budget contains the costs for telephone and cell phone service used by technology staff.

• Supplies:  This includes everything from paper to print cartridges.

• Postage:  The cost of postage related to interlibrary loan and reference, Merlin, Technology and Cooperative Cataloging are included here.

• Travel:  The cost of NWLS staff travel related to technology and resource-sharing programs is included.

• Office Equipment Maintenance:  The costs associated with these programs for the service agreement for the NWLS copy machine.

• Reference and ILL Databases:  The costs to provide databases to NWLS member libraries and their patrons are included here.

• Automation Software:  The cost of the maintenance agreement with Innovative Interfaces for automation software is included here.

• Miscellaneous:  A small amount for miscellaneous expenditures is included here.

• Merlin Expansion:  The costs of some minor equipment upgrades or additions, plus the costs of four new libraries joining Merlin are included here (LSTA funds).

• Insurance:  A prorated share of insurance costs for the NWLS building is assessed to technology and resource sharing programs.


Evaluation of the plan is the responsibility of the NWLS Director.  Input from member library staff and from NWLS teams with responsibility for implementing specific aspects of the plan will be considered as a part of the evaluation process.

The evaluation report will be made annually to the NWLS Board of Trustees as part of the system planning process.  It will include progress toward goals, a list of goals not achieved and why they have not been achieved, and suggestions for achieving the goals in the future.  Also included will be an assessment on the outcomes of the plan and any recommended changes to the plan.