North Riverside Public Library Director Natalie Starosta demonstrates the various ways the Cisco Webex Board, donated to the library by her husband’s company, can be used to present programs, conduct meetings and more during an interview July 26. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

North Riverside Public Library, 2400 Desplaines Ave., is the proud owner of a very fancy piece of technology – a Cisco Webex Board 85S, an 85-inch interactive touchscreen device – that features ultra-high definition 4K resolution and can be used to screen movies, conduct meetings, allow people to attend in-person programs virtually and more.

Such a device would normally be considered a luxury for a small library district like North Riverside’s. The devices retail for $50,000 or more, but North Riverside Public Library got its Webex board gratis, a donation from a company called World Wide Technology, a Rosemont-based software company that was getting rid of equipment now that many employees work remotely.

That company acquired the device directly from Cisco, which had offices in the same building but closed them down when the pandemic swept through last year. How did the North Riverside Public Library get on World Wide technology’s radar, you might ask?

Conveniently, the company employs the husband of North Riverside Library Director Natalie Starosta, James Starosta.

The company also donated a 55-inch TV, which will be used elsewhere in the library to advertise upcoming programs. The Cisco Webex board – Webex is a videoconferencing technology similar to Zoom – is located in the library’s public meeting room.

Although it’s giant-sized, the board functions in some ways like an ordinary tablet and can be used, for example, to visit the library’s website and register for programs at a touch.

“What’s fun about this and what’s going to be extremely functional for us … is to do virtual programming at the same time as we’re doing in-person,” Starosta said. “So we can have hybrid programs without any additional equipment.”

The device has 12 microphones, so it can record sound “amazingly well,” said Starosta. 

“And when somebody is speaking it will zoom in on that person, so when we have a presenter or somebody who is showing things or doing demos, it will zoom in on that person,” she added.

The new Webex board, which the library took possession of less than a month ago, is the latest in a series of upgrades that have been under way throughout the pandemic and are now being rolled out to patrons.

The lower-level children’s services is in the midst of a project to replace the carpeting and shelving units and generally reorganize the space similar to what the library completed on its main floor in 2018. Starosta said officials hope the lower level will reopen by Labor Day.

Also in the works is a new book sale room, which will be located in a former storage space near the entrance to the public meeting room. Books for sale will be displayed on shelves that have already been installed, and the room will include a couple of chairs so patrons can browse before buying.

The library currently has a small cart near the main entrance where books for sale are displayed. The new room will be a permanent home for those books, and proceeds from sales will go to the North Riverside Library Foundation.

Finished just last week and now open to patrons is the library’s new production studio, which comes with a variety of musical instruments – guitars, keyboards and electronic drum pad – sound equipment and audio production hardware and software.

The production studio also provides ways for patrons to convert obsolete video and audio formats – like Super 8 film, VHS, cassette tapes, slides and photographs into digital formats.

Finally, the library is also converting another storage room into a place where the North Riverside Historical Society can store is archives – sans the Melody Mill Ballroom sign, which remains out back of the village’s public works building. The society’s collection is scattered among various private homes and offices right now.