Calgary Public Library reads up on VoIP

Canada’s second-largest public library system has is hoping to demonstrate the value of Alberta’s ambitious SuperNet project by creating advanced services based on its recently installed IP telephony system.

The Calgary Public Library finished connecting the last of its sites to the SuperNet last month, a project that included upgrading its local area network at its central site and at 17 branch locations. SuperNet is a multi-protocol label-switching network funded by the Alberta government to connect all universities, school boards, libraries, hospitals, provincial government buildings and regional health authorities throughout the province and provide high-speed access. Cisco was one of the main equipment providers to SuperNet, and also won the RFP to supply the Calgary Public Library, which serves more than 900,000 people in the city.

Scott Stanley, the library’s IT manager, said the move to IP telephony was driven by the need to provide XML integration between its phone system and Dynix Horizon, a client-server tool that provides customer relationship management, inventory control and purchasing features to library staff. Calgary Public Library was also saddled with a 20-year-old private branch exchange (PBX) system that was reaching the end of its life, Stanley said.

Calgary Public Library is expecting to save money from lower maintenance costs, Stanley said, as well as the less expensive line costs associated with SuperNet. The library is in the process of doing some pilots for a centralized reference service that would use the Cisco equipment’s interactive voice response (IVR) technology to route calls between branches. Members regular call the library for a range of questions, Stanley added, from helping out with homework projects to other research requests.

“Our central library is very busy during the day, but not very busy at night, whereas our local branches are not very busy in the day but very busy at night,” he said. “We’re trying to decide whether it might make sense if we direct calls accordingly.” 

IP telephony will also mean Calgary Public Library can offer four-digit dialing and branch-to-branch call transfer, though Stanley said some of these features had not yet been deployed.

“We’ve gone through and replaced the old phone system and mimicked what we were already doing,” he said. “Now we’re going through and looking at the functionality that’s available to us.”

Many of the organizations that have already moved to IP did so for the same reason residential users have moved to voice-over-IP – because it’s cheap, said Jon Arnold, an independent analyst who follows the industry.

“The soft benefits of IP – some intelligence in the end point that allows you to do multimedia, find me/follow me and control your call features – it’s all really cool, but that’s not why people are buying it,” he said. “There’s a lot of self-discovery in this, when people are just playing around with it.”

Stanley said library staff were given the opportunity to try out the IP phone long before they were deployed. One of the other keys to the project’s success was in making sure the proper physical infrastructure was in place, he said, such as checking to see if the wiring was up to standard and certified.


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