Despite its technological drawbacks and phone line hiccups, the fax service at the Portage Public Library continues to be one of the most popular offerings for patrons.
Library Director Debbie Bird said it is just an example of how vital the building is for residents.
“Often, the misconception is that the library is only, and always, about books,” Bird said. “And it is, but there are audio/visual items and services to offer as well. It is meeting a fundamental need to reach an audience outside the library.”
The library offers fax services for $1 per sheet. A facsimile can be sent via a multifunction machine near the reference desk; it scans, copies, prints and faxes. The library sent more than 3,800 pages through its fax services in 2018 and has sent nearly 2,000 this year as of mid-July.
Facsimiles have existed since the mid-19th century in some form. In the 1980s, the method of communication thrived in businesses and other office spaces. But when modern technology began to take hold, experts predicted the fax machine would disappear. Use has decreased since the advent of email and a variety of messaging systems developed since the turn of the millennium.
However, it continues to exist in a stable fashion due its secure nature and preference by health care facilities and government entities.
Chris Baker, the library’s teen services and technology coordinator, said the library has sent more than 10,000 sheets via fax in the last three years.
“It’s rather extraordinary,” Baker said.
Baker and Bird said the high number is in part due to the lack of resources available for residents who need to send documents via fax.
“We seem to be the only game in town,” Bird said.
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A new addition in just the last six weeks, Bird said she noted during her time employed with the Sun Prairie Public Library that fax services often were used there as well.
Baker said the option provides support for people who are likely sending vital documents.
“Oftentimes, faxing is a very time-sensitive thing,” Baker said. “It’s almost always important.”
Fax users are adults who span all age groups, he added.
High use rates continue even as users have been hindered by technological issues. Baker said a switch by the city to a centrex system about two years ago made sending faxes more problematic. Centrex sets up the phone company building as the maintenance center for all incoming and outgoing calls rather than direct contact between caller and receiver.
Now faxing a document requires a bit of manipulation, which was discovered after multiple sessions of troubleshooting. When sending a fax, the sender must hit the first two numbers, but hit enter in between them before then putting the fax number into the system. As it sends, the familiar screech of a phone line connecting can be heard. But then as the enter is reflected in the system, the sender hears the dial tone once more.
Baker said the pause in the process means the documents are more likely to send, though it usually fails on the first attempt. It isn’t a permanent solution, but it has ensured faxes are sent, albeit slowly. Baker said if someone has a document over 10 pages, it can take around 30 minutes to send the full item.
Baker said the library continues to work with the Frontier phone company and Rhyme, the copier servicing company, to rectify the issue and ensure the library is able to provide one of its most popular services.
“It can take three to five times for it to eventually send,” Baker said. “But we’re glad they have it. We’re all very proud to be able to offer that very important service to the public.”