Nine months since the Carroll County library system introduced Internet access at its five branches, library officials are making plans to expand the range of on-line information services.
Within two months, library users will be able to link up to the World Wide Web, a fast-growing graphic-oriented segment of the Internet.
Computer terminals in the county's library branches already provide access to text on the Internet, a worldwide network used by an estimated 30 million people. New software will allow county library users to tap into the graphically designed Web sites. The expansion will cost about $8,000, which will be provided through a federal grant.
"The [library] patrons will have the nice pictures instead of just the words -- it's full graphic access," said Scott Reinhart, the county library system's director of automation, support and technical services.
"The contents will be the same, but the presentation is so much nicer," he said.
Statewide, Carroll's libraries have been leaders in on-line information services since the county library system became an Internet provider in May. Mr. Reinhart said the Carroll County Public Library was the first library system in the state to have a home page on the Internet, giving library users access to the wealth of information on its networks.
Through Carroll County Resources Online, county library patrons also can gather information at the local level, such as the County Commissioners' weekly schedules, agendas for planning and zoning decisions and recreational events.
"We're trying to position ourselves as the information provider for nonprofit community groups and state, local and town governments," Mr. Reinhart said.
Use of the library system's on-line services has been growing rapidly. Since the services' debut in May, the number of files searched on the Internet has increased from 2,810 to 105,742, as of last week, said Ann Wisner, a spokeswoman for the county library system.
"The growth has really been quite dramatic," Ms. Wisner said.
The library's "Introduction to the Internet" classes, which began in October, all have been filled to their 50-person capacities, with waiting lists, she said.
Ann Gilligan, branch manager at the Westminster Library, said the library's five terminals that connect to the Internet are generally in use.
"We're getting to the point where we're going to have to limit people's time," she said.
By far, the most popular on-line service is e-mail, Ms. Gilligan said. County library patrons also have used the Internet to research such subjects as the Civil War, genealogy, or which cars have been recalled by the National Transportation Safety Board.
In addition to providing Internet access to the public through computers at library branches, Mr. Reinhart said the county library system sells Internet accounts to individuals and businesses. An unlimited access account costs $50 a year.
The account fees go toward the library's $36,000 annual Internet connection bill.
The Carroll and Baltimore county library systems share an Internet line, with each county paying $3,000 a month for the connection, Mr. Reinhart said. But as the number of users grows, each system will need its own connection.
Carroll's library system has no full-time employee to coordinate on-line information services. Library staff and employees from other county departments have pitched in to develop the system's Internet access.
"It's not just a neat service," Mr. Reinhart said. "It's a phenomenon, and the library was fortunate to get involved in the very beginning."
The next Internet demonstration classes will be offered March 14 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Taneytown branch, and April 13, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the North Carroll branch.
Registration is required. For more information, call the individual branches.