New OWL technology connects Kenai with other libraries

Library gets wired
Sen. Murkowski reads to a group of kids Wednesday at the Kenai Community Library via video. The Alaska Online with Libraries (OWL) project has provided the library with the two displays and the camera, which will be used partially for distance education opportunities.

Despite a distance of about 4,000 miles, Sen. Lisa Murkowski read to a group of children via videoconference Wednesday at the Kenai Community Library. The senator chose the book "Ten Rowdy Ravens" to read to the group.


"Ca caw, ca caw," Murkowski said, animating the opening illustration of the book from her office in Washington, D.C. 

The Kenai library invited the senator to read as part of its official launch of the Alaska Online with Libraries project. It will use the technology to integrate distance education opportunities for students and adults throughout the central Kenai Peninsula area.

OWL has provided the library with two, new flat-screen televisions and a camera that will function to connect the library with communities around the state, nation and world. The Alaska State Library and other state public libraries are working with the United States Department of Commerce, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation to make the project a success.

"I'm delighted to be able to be with you using this technology," Murkowski said. "To visit like this is really amazing."

The project launched officially in December 2010 and was projected to cost $8.2 million, according to the Alaska State Library. Many libraries throughout the state have added the project to their services.

Through OWL public libraries have:

* Increased broadband speeds to provide faster Internet connections for rural and remote locations.

* Provided new desktop and laptop computers used by library patrons.

* Allowed library users to attend interactive videoconference meetings with others.

* Assisted small and volunteer libraries in acquiring improved technical skills.

* And helped library patrons earn better salaries by pursuing an education or enhancing their job training through videoconferencing without leaving their towns.

Working on establishing the new technology at the Kenai library for two months, employees still are formulating ideas for future use, said Mary White, Youth Services librarian.

"We're still working on ironing all the possibilities out," she said. "It's a work in progress, because this is the first time we've used a medium like this. We have to become efficient with it, so as we go along the possibilities are endless."

The two large displays were mounted on a wall in the library's multipurpose room. Murkowski was displayed on the left while Kenai's room filled with children was displayed on the right.

Children sat around the room, clinging to their parents occasionally; shifting their attentions from screen to screen.

Murkowski also used the event to promote good reading habits when school is out for summer.

Kendra Rupp brought her two toddlers to the reading by chance, expecting the regularly scheduled story time. The mother is on maternity leave currently and plans to bring her kids to the library's events this summer, she said.

"It was a fun thing for the kids, and really neat that they can do it all the way from across the country," she said.

White said she thought the initial event was a success.

"I think we're learning how to deal with the lag time, but for the most part it went well," she said. "It was fun to see the senator and give people a flavor of the possibility that can be done."

One idea floating amongst the bookshelves is inviting authors to speak about their works.

The public library in Craig, a small community on the tip of the Panhandle, is hosting multiple authors during its "Pitchapalooza" event. Using OWL, community writers will have the opportunity to pitch their books for a chance to win an introduction to agents and publishers. The event is scheduled for August 16-22.

The Kenai library will participate in another video event today from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Students are invited to explore the planet Mars with Dr. Stephen Lee of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He will present from his research lab at the museum.

On June 12, Sen. Mark Begich will read to students.

For more information about the events, call Kenai Community Library at 283-4378.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at