Merit Network

A Dynamic Community Resource

Brian Warkoczeski 2013 News, News

With a wealth of online and interactive resources, Portage Lake District Library (PLDL) is a community treasure in picturesque Houghton, Michigan. The Library has invested in new technology and web-based tools that provide its members with a growing number of ways to read, research, and learn.

In November, PLDP debuted its new videoconferencing suite, which features H.323 polycom technology and a 5-feet-by-4-feet high-definition screen. PLDL acquired the video conferencing system from Northern Michigan University.

“It works beautifully, like you’re right there,” said Shawn Leche, director of Portage Lake District Library.

Gettysburg Address Anniversary

Portage Lake District Library hosted the 8th grade class from Chassell Township School for the first event to use videoconferencing system, a celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Using H.323 videoconferencing over Internet2, the students joined others across the United States for ceremonies conducted at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The program through Internet2’s K20 initiative was made possible through the library’s relationship with Merit Network and Superiorland Library Cooperative.

“Students watched the deliverance of the Gettysburg Address speech and a swearing-in ceremony led by Anthony Scalia of the Supreme Court,” Leche said. “Immigrants from Belgium, Germany, the Ivory Coast, and South Africa were sworn in as United States citizens, and they played a clip from President Obama addressing the new citizens from the White House.”

The Library plans to offer periodic educational programs at its new telepresence center and to make it available to individuals in the community for job interviews, health consultations, and other interactive uses.

A Library Without Walls

Portage Lake District Library also offers numerous free online resources that its members can use at the library or at home with a computer, iPad or iPhone. The goal of the online offerings is to create a “library without walls,” as Shawn Leche likes to call it, where library members can access resources wherever it is convenient.

“We have a wonderful collection here. Our collection specialist knows the needs of the community,” Leche stated.

Online resources include:

  • Little Pim: Children, ages 2-8, can learn a foreign language, including Spanish, French, Dutch, Mandarin Chinese, and much more. “It’s one of the best language offerings in the country,” Leche said.

  • Law Depot: The resource permits patrons to perform most if not all of the legal transactions that are available through an attorney, such as setting up a will or incorporating a business.

  • Mango Languages: The program teaches 95 foreign languages and four English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) courses. “It offers two tracks: one for if you’re going to visit a country and another for if you want to learn a language,” Leche said.

  • Universal Class: The resource offers over 500 online classes taught by real instructors. Students can earn continuing education credits.

  • Zinio: A subscription service that offers over 130 magazines digitally, which can be downloaded to a computer, iPad, Kindle Fire, iPad, or Android device.

  • Ancestry.com: Patrons can do their genealogy using the computers at the library.

The online resources are free for individuals who have a library card, and they have become so popular that PLDL increasingly has requests from people in nearby communities to use the resources. To accommodate those patrons, the library offers library memberships for individuals or families for a fee.

Connectivity & Community

In early 2013, Merit Network completed a fiber-optic connection to Portage Lake District Library, which dramatically increased the connection speeds for patrons who use the library’s computers. It also helped the library’s free Wi-Fi network.
Portage Lake District Library
“Everybody loves it. The fiber-optic connection really makes it possible to use the online programs that stream things through web sites,” according to Leche.

The improved connectivity has helped PLDL’s computer literacy classes, which are offered once a week. Graduate students from Michigan Technological University, a Merit Governing Member, which is not far from the library, teach the classes and show attendees how to use computers and download books from the Internet.

The computer literacy classes are among the many in-person programs that are offered at Portage Lake District Library during the year.

“Everything from Cinco de Mayo to music festivals to children’s programs. We have a very good program director, Christine Alquist,” Leche stated. “Our stamp clubs are very popular with seniors, and we offer programs on investments and the affordable care act.”

Portage Lake District Library serves a diverse community—from young children and teens to college students and senior citizens. The quality of the programs is always top-notch, and the cost for its members to use the numerous resources is free, whether you want to enjoy the speedy Internet connection at the Library or use your own device to access the numerous online resources from home.

About the Portage Lake District Library

Portage Lake District Library is located at 58 Huron Street in Houghton, Michigan. The library first opened on Feb. 19, 1910, and it has been in its current location since 2006. The Library provides materials and services to help district residents obtain information meeting their personal, educational, and professional needs.

Portage Lake District Library has been a Merit Member since July 2011 and is connected to Merit’s network via a 1 Gbps fiber-optic connection. They are also a member of the Superiorland Library Cooperative.