Passports, hotspots and telescope are some of the newest services to hit the Cape Girardeau Public Library. KRCU's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with Cape Girardeau Public Library Director Betty Martin.
Lewis-Thompson: There are a ton of amenities that you all have brought to the Cape Girardeau Public Library. As you mentioned, you have the hotspot. You have the passports available to sign up and do that process, as well as new telescope. So let's start with the hotspots. How did you all come about getting that?
Martin: Well I had heard of some other libraries in the state that are offering these mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for people who can't afford internet at home. And we discovered that well there's a company called TechSoup that solicits donations from companies, and then is able to give libraries in particular technology at a very greatly reduced rate. So sometimes we buy software from them, but this time they were offering hotspots at a greatly reduced rate. And we could purchase 5-10 hotspots per year. You can only purchase from them once a year. And we didn't know how popular they would be. So we purchased five, which was a mistake. We should have definitely have purchased 10. But they check out for one week at a time and people can borrow them, take them home, take them on vacation and access the internet with them and there is no charge.' It's just that we request that they bring them back when they're done with them. We should definitely have purchased 10. We won't be able to purchase anymore until next July, but we have right now we have 60 people on the waiting list to check out one of the five hotspots that we own.
Lewis-Thompson: So what have people in the community been saying about these hotspots? What have been some of the pros about it?
Martin: Well I don't work on the front lines. So, I haven't had a conversation with people that are actually borrowing them. But I've heard through my staff that people are very excited that this is being offered.You know so many of the jobs nowadays you have to apply online. And if you can't afford internet at home that means you need to come to the library and spend sometime, which you know we were happy for people to do that. But then you know you can do this on your own time when it's more convenient to you by using this internet connection. And people who are going on vacation are very excited about it. They'll say 'oh I'm going to come borrow one of those you know when I go on vacation. And unfortunately there's quite a long waiting list as I said.
Lewis-Thompson: Wow. So you can take them out of town with you. No problem.
Martin: Right. That's right. That's correct. Now you have to pay to replace them if you don't bring them back. And if they become overdue we actually have a way that we can turn them off remotely. So, you no longer have internet access you just have sort of a little black paper weight.
Lewis-Thompson: And so, the next thing that you guys are offering are being able to sign up for passports.
Martin: Yes. This is another thing that I've heard of some libraries doing in Missouri, specifically Springfield-Greene library system, which is a much bigger system than ours. But they were offering that and I said we need to do that as well. I know that it's very difficult for some people to get to the post office during the hours when they are offering that service. And the state department is also looking for libraries in other places to offer that service so there's a little bit of training involved. I have five staff members who went through some online training. So, now they are certified agents. It's a lot more complicated than you would think. Everyone's situation is a little bit different: if they have children, if they've had a passport before. So, the staff had to be trained through all of that. We're also offering the photos. And the difference between us and the post office is you don't have to make an appointment. You can walk in anytime that we're open. We always have an agent on staff available to help people apply for the passport. So they come in you can fill out the form online first. You can have your photo taken at the library. And then the library's agents will look over your passport information, make sure you've filled out the application correctly and we'll mail it off for you. Of course there's a charge for the passport itself and also for our service. We are mandated by the state department as to what to charge.
Lewis-Thompson: So how much does it cost typically?
Martin: So just for a basic passport it's $110 for an adult to the state department, and then $25 to the library. And if you want your photo taken that's another $10. Now renewals, we're encouraged not to do renewals because people can do that themselves online. They can fill out the form. They get a photo and they can send it off themselves and save themselves that $25 that the library charges.
Lewis-Thompson: And what are some key pieces of information that they need to bring with them to the library?
Martin: Well again it varies on their situation but I would recommend that people go to our homepage--the library's homepage. So that's www.capelibrary.org. And right on the homepage there's a link to some information and also to the state departments travel site that will give them--there's actually a form they can fill out [and] answer some questions and it will tell them exactly what they need to bring to the library to get their passport application filled out.
Lewis-Thompson: And the last thing is the telescope. Tell me a little bit about this telescope.
Martin: Well the St. Louis Astronomical Society is encouraging libraries to offer telescopes to check out because of course they love that people are interested in the skies. And there's a solar eclipse--total solar eclipse happening next year August 17 I believe. And so that has increased interest in the skies, which you don't want to use the telescope on a solar eclipse. So they have helped us purchase--actually Zickfield Jeweler's and Edward Jones has helped us purchase a telescope for our library that we can check out. It's an Orion Starblast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope with a zoom lens attached to it. My staff have all tried it out so that they can help people figure it out and they said looking at the moon is lots of fun.