Revolutionizing MOREnet Member Libraries: REAL Funding Success Story

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Every day, libraries serve their communities by providing an Internet connection that grants patrons access to a wealth of information that can be found across the world wide web.  More than just information, however, patrons use that same connection to access personal health and financial data or to conduct business.  One challenge that library systems face is how to protect patron and organizational data, manage bandwidth and access usage statistics in a user-friendly manner.  Additionally, libraries are challenged to find the funding to set up and oversee a complex network and security system for multiple branches.  Thanks to funding from HB12 and the Remote Electronic Access for Libraries (REAL) program through Missouri State Library, nearly one-hundred libraries in the state of Missouri are now using new network and security solutions to improve their bandwidth and protect their locations from data breaches and cybersecurity attacks.  The Missouri State Library reached out to MOREnet, who managed the assessments and upgrades while collaborating with Fortinet, a global leader of cybersecurity solutions and services.

The Challenge Facing Missouri Libraries        

In areas of rural Missouri, there are very few technological consultants available to help libraries build safe and effective networks.  Frequently, it has been up to the library director or volunteer staff to manage and secure Internet infrastructure.  Additionally, smaller communities face digital equity issues; numerous library patrons and community members rely heavily on libraries for an Internet connection.  Beginning in 2022, the Missouri State Library designated REAL program funding to specifically aid in the improvement of library technology.  MOREnet was tasked with identifying the greatest technological deficits of Missouri libraries, and it quickly became apparent that libraries needed updated switches, access points and firewalls to safely provide connectivity for their patrons.  “Many of the library systems did not have an adequate firewall, if any firewall at all, and their networks were very vulnerable”, noted Adam Boley, a network engineer with MOREnet. 

Revitalizing a Missouri Library Riddled with Connectivity Issues

One such library system in Texas County “was a poster child for this funding”, shared Janet Fraley, library board member.  Located in rural southern Missouri, the system was plagued by slow connection bandwidth and minimal malware protection.  Texas County was one of the first local providers of Internet twenty years prior, however, “Over the years, things were just cobbled together”, explained Fraley.  Users were able to access unsafe and illegal content across their four branches, which triggered DMCA notices to the library system.   Due to the high volume of unmanaged traffic and many modifications over the years, the connection was riddled with problems.  Although Texas County Library knew they needed help, funding was an issue.  Library leadership learned about REAL funding and immediately jumped at the opportunity.   Fraley stated, “We qualified for $44,000 in funding, which was more money than we ever would have been able to come up with on our own.”

      MOREnet technical expert Alex Gray visited the library and completed a full network assessment, recommending a series of repairs and solutions to fix Texas County’s network challenges.  After the items were ordered and delivered, MOREnet engineers returned to the library to install and configure the new solutions, which included access points, switches and firewalls, along with MOREnet and Fortinet management for five years.  “We are so thankful for the network assessment and installation.  We, being so rural, could not find someone to install our products.  We didn’t even know who to ask”, said board member Fraley.  The Texas County library patrons are now able to access the Internet easily and safely.  Businesses utilize the library connection to conduct business, and the four-branch system has had no complaints from patrons, who log on through a secure sign-in system.  Library director Louise Beasley appreciates that she can easily access the user statistics and what is happening at each of the different branches’ connections.  Even more so, Beasley appreciates the support from MOREnet, stating that “…they are just right there with us.” 

Transforming Library Network Quality and Control

Salem Public Library shared similar struggles, confirmed library director Kate McBride.  The library, built in an old bank with many building additions and modifications over time, had an ineffective firewall and network.  MOREnet network engineers Josh Noble and Alex Gray helped to install the new access points, switches and a firewall. The library staff did not understand how the Salem network was pieced together, and it took multiple trips from MOREnet experts to inspect and fix the issues.  “The tremendous thing that this REAL Funding did for Salem was give us control of the Internet.  Before this, only one third-party vendor knew how to access the info on the firewall, access points or switches.  Before Josh and Alex, we only knew how to open the closet where they were located.  Because of MOREnet, we know more and feel more in control.”  Not only did these REAL-funded improvements give Salem Library control and visibility, but they created a drastic improvement to the network itself.  “We are now confident that our services are not substandard” shared McBride.

Streamlining Management Across Vast Rural Networks  

Another common challenge for rural library systems are multiple branches spread across a large geographical area. One of those systems, Ozark Regional Library, has four branches spanning over two counties.  This made management difficult for the head of technical services, John Jones, as he or a member of his team would need to drive more than an hour between branches if there were any issues or concerns.  “It’s so helpful to have the singular platform.  I can log into any of the routers remotely”, said Jones.  Reynolds County Library Director, Megan Bishop shared similar struggles with distance.  “We are an eighty-six-mile round trip drive between branches.  This new technology has made my job easier.  I am able to access and share the information I need from one location”, said Bishop.  “Working with Dave Kessler of MOREnet was easy.  What we had worked, but we needed better, and that is what we got.”           

Empowering Missouri Libraries: The Ongoing Commitment of MOREnet’s Network Team

MOREnet’s Network team will continue to work with Missouri libraries that qualify for these upgrades as long as possible.  “Ideally we keep it going as long as the budget allows”, shared Adam Boley.   “Right now, the money is here and it is a great value for our library members.  We are using an RFP for Fortinet to provide better security and filtering, all managed through one common interface”, said Boley.  “Our goal is to empower the libraries, if they want that”, he continued.  Kate McBride believes that the goal of empowering libraries is being attained, as she noted, “I find the entire process empowering, our staff understands more about our technology than we did before because MOREnet took the time to explain what was needed, why we needed it and where it was going.  We feel more confident when we explain our system to our patrons.  It’s wonderful to know we have MOREnet just a call or email away.”