HOBSON CITY — Heather Sudduth, a member of this town’s library board, lives in Munford.
Her children go to school in Talladega County, and bring home school-issued laptops on which they do their homework.
Sudduth wanted to get the same technology in the hands of other Calhoun County students, but found something else: virtual reality, courtesy of a Californian company called zSpace.
The Hobson City Public Library’s Board of Directors last month agreed to spend about $26,000 on five computers made by the company.
The tabletop computers require users to don sensor-laden glasses and take up a stylus to manipulate a virtual reality workspace, which may explain the price tag: roughly $5,000 each.
Sudduth said she found out about the virtual reality machines on the Internet, and helped arrange a visit last month by company representatives to a Talladega County school. Efforts to reach officials in the school system Tuesday about the visit were unsuccessful.
The devices can be used to teach subjects as diverse as chemistry and history, a sales director for the company said Tuesday, but focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-based curricula.
The patented software the company sells allows users — most commonly students at high schools and colleges — to see digitized objects in three dimensions, from a human heart to a car’s alternator.
“Things actually literally pop off the screen,” Mike Robinson, director of zSpace’s sales operations in Alabama, said by phone Tuesday afternoon.
Sudduth, other members of the library’s board, and the town’s mayor see the machines as a sound investment, one they’ve made for the children and adults who use the library.
“You’re not just paying for the computer system,” Sudduth said, “you’re paying for the rights to use the educational materials they’ve put together.”
Sudduth described those materials as “amazing.” The company’s website says the educational activities it curates are “aligned with state and national science standards.”
The money for the devices came from the library’s own coffers and not from the town’s General Fund, Mayor Alberta McCrory said Tuesday.
Donations made to the library, money raised during last year’s Founders Day, and the leftovers of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant the library received helped cover the expense, McCrory said.
The mayor conceded the systems are expensive, but said that “ignorance is even more expensive.”
She believes the technology “could bridge the gap between African American students and other students.”
The library won’t receive the computers for another six to eight weeks, the mayor said, when the company will install them and train library staff on how to use them.
McCrory said she and the Town Council may consider changes to staffing at the library to ensure that someone who’s trained in using the machines is there whenever the doors are open.
There are 10 computers in the library now, desktops arranged in a circle in the center of the building’s largest room.
The library’s interim director, Joan Stephens, on Tuesday called the plan to add the virtual reality machines an innovative one. She hopes the town’s technology-savvy children will make the most of it.
“It takes what they’re good at, with their thumbs,” Stephens said, wiggling her hands in front of her, “and it makes it for learning.”
Stephens doesn’t believe anyone will think the library’s purchasing the devices a bad financial decision. “We can always spend more money on anything,” she said.
If the town’s children get some benefit out of it, board member Denise DeRamus said Tuesday afternoon, “I think it’s worth spending money on.”