OPLIN was created by an exceptional group of people, with support from the entire Ohio public library community, who volunteered their time and effort to develop a service which they believed to be very important. The early impetus for creating a network of public libraries came from the metropolitan library systems, but it quickly grew to encompass all Ohio public libraries.
In early 1993, at a meeting of the Ohio Library Council (OLC) membership in Columbus, Bob Carterette from CLEVNET gave a demonstration of the Internet. A number of public library directors were interested, and also concerned that public libraries should have a computer network similar to OhioLINK (1990) for academic libraries and INFOhio (1993) for school libraries. While these two existing organizations used already established computer networks serving colleges and schools, the envisioned public library network would have to develop not only services for libraries, but a physical network as well. At the time, only 45% of Ohio public libraries had automated catalog systems, and less than half of those automated libraries had any way for patrons to dial into the catalog.
Later that year, Fran Haley and Lynda Murray from OLC, and Dr. Greg Byerly and Dr. Rick Rubin from the Kent State University School of Library and Information Science, had an informal meeting at a Cajun restaurant in Mansfield to discuss how best to create such a network. The name "Ohio Public Library Information Network" was suggested, and possible members of a Blue Ribbon Commission on OPLIN were named.
In November 1993, OLC submitted a request to the State Library for a $25,500 federal Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) to support planning costs from January through June 1994. The grant was awarded and some of the funds were used to hire Dr. Byerly as an "OPLIN consultant" to oversee the development of the organization. Dr. Byerly had previously served as the first director of OhioLINK and had also consulted in the creation of INFOhio.
The Blue Ribbon Commission was co-chaired by John Wallach (director of Dayton & Montgomery County Public Library) and Judy Garel (trustee of Bexley Public Library). The commission met for the first time in February 1994 and formally established three Task Forces:
- Networking and Technology Issues, co-chaired by Meribah Mansfield (director of Worthington Public Library) and Scott Leeseberg (trustee of Lorain Public Library);
- Library Issues, co-chaired by Elaine Paulette (director of Wood County District Public Library) and Steve Wood (director of Cleveland Heights - University Heights Public Library); and
- Administration and Funding, co-chaired by Frances Black (director of the Southwest Public Libraries) and H. Baird Tenney (trustee of Cleveland Heights - University Heights Public Library).
Once the co-chairs of each Task Force had been chosen, a general call for volunteers to serve on the Task Forces was issued. Every volunteer was accepted.
Dr. Byerly set the Commission and the Task Forces the job of answering a series of questions; the answers were to be used for developing a draft position paper, as well as writing an application for a $46,823 Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to support another year of development work on the network plan. Another request for LSCA funds ($32,849) was also submitted to the State Library, and Dr. Byerly and Lynda Murray met with Ohio Office of Budget and Management director Greg Browning to request $50,000 from state funds to support the planning process. Neither grant was awarded, but the request for state funds was successful.
On March 17, 1994, a large meeting of over 160 people, including all Commission and Task Force members and many interested librarians, was held to initiate the planning process. Thereafter, the Task Forces and the Commission held many meetings, particularly a two-day working conference on May 5-6, and devoted a lot of effort to defining what OPLIN was to be and how it could be created. A draft position paper was sent to each public library for comment in June, with the final version released in September.
In addition to OLC staff and Dr. Byerly, many individual members of the task forces shouldered important jobs, meeting with Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) staff to talk about technical aspects of the physical network and keeping in close contact with appropriate legislators to discuss plans and needs. Meribah Mansfield in particular campaigned for purchasing information databases for distribution over the network and wrote to Greg Browning in February 1995 to plead the case for $2.1 million for this purpose.
All the meetings and extraordinary efforts eventually led to the support of Gov. Voinovich in his 1995 State of the State Address, followed by the inclusion of $4.85 million in the state biennium budget starting July 1, 1995 to create and operate OPLIN, plus an additional $8 million distributed to library districts to purchase computer hardware and software related to implementing OPLIN. On July 11, 1995, the OPLIN Board met for the first time, composed of the eight co-chairs plus Susan Kendall, Queen Lester, and John Storck. John Wallach served as the first Board chair and, in the absence of an OPLIN director, masterfully handled situations which could have delayed the establishment of OPLIN. The Administration and Funding Task Force conducted a nationwide search for a permanent director, and Tony Yankus took office as the first OPLIN Executive Director in October 1995.
Photo: Meribah Mansfield poses with two OPLIN workstations for the October 1997 cover of Library Journal.