Post Tech Day

Agenda from Tech Day 2009.  As a Director, I celebrated the end of Summer Reading but here, I celebrate the end of Tech Day.  Last week was spent catching up, but also processing the information Amy shared with us.  I’m happy to report that the feedback on Tech Day was overwhelmingly positive, with David’s program on Digitization and the lightning rounds as highlights.  The ‘feel’ of Tech Day was definitely more relaxed this year, partly because of Amy, partly because of the chaotic nature of lightning rounds and partly because I wasn’t new to the job.  I hope people enjoyed themselves, along with learning a few things.

We’ve compiled a list of electronic resources mentioned throughout the day at the NEKLS Tech Blog.  Heather, the academic of the Tech Team, also put together some great articles and such about Open Source Resources that are well worth a read, also at the NEKLS Tech Blog.

It was a treat to meet Amy and talk to her on Wednesday about how Howard County Library (HCL) has implemented their open source solutions via Groovix and how that has positively impacted the customer service and ‘soft’ tech support she and her team are able to give staff now.  With so few broken computers, she has time to help people improve workflows and use of the technology, most of which they taught themselves to use in the first place.

Amy inherited the HCL open source experiment during “Phase 1: Let’s explore open source” when two of the technicians wanted to explore an alternative to upgrading every computer from NT to XP, so they played with loomix back in 2001.  They were able to use ‘bad’ machines successfully with loomix and eventually hooked up with Mike Pardee at Open Sense Solutions, who developed and supports the Groovix product.

“Phase 2: Outsource” – Howard County contracted with Mike to use Groovix.

Groovix is a web-based ‘solution’ (software) that combines an ubuntu operating system, web browsing, word processing, multi-media, web-based applications and security.  The software is deployed, supported, updated and monitored remotely by Groovix.  According to the project site, “Groovix was designed from the ground up to provide a secure public access computing environment. Groovix gives you functionality, customizability, security, and support.”  As anyone who’s thumbed through a browser history or looked at cookies and temp files on a public machine (that hasn’t been rebooted to clear all of that) knows, there is a ton of private information out on public machines.  In Sept. 2007, Groovix was deployed system wide.  Amy shared that HCL bought used PCs (GX150s), but now deploys GX270s at $170 a piece.  The extra money is used for monitors and 3 year maintenance for those monitors.  They keep hard drives and fans in stock and replace these parts when they break.

They went with the “internet cafe” model for public computing, with games for kids that can be accessed on ANY PC, not just the ones in the children’s area (a plus when the parent wants to go find a book and have the child nearby).   With the staff, all went well except for about a dozen folks who needed to keep their Windows clients.  Not everyone is comfortable going from operating system to operating system (from Mac to PC to Linux), but that is definitely a goal.  For email and file sharing, they use DeskNow or Zimbra.

With less time spent troubleshooting hardware and software because of Groovix, HCL tech staff were able to spend time on site at various branches, including Administration where a majority of the Windows clients were located.  Through observation and being available for one-on-one training, many software/workflow issues were resolved and much good will has been built.

Another decision made at HCL, due to the money saved from going to open source, was to provide the marketing department with Macs.  Rather than convert every file sent to the vendor, the library staff just used the same OS.

We asked a lot of questions of Amy, here are some random answers:

  • What’s the replacement cycle? “Just when they die, not every 3 years.”
  • Budget issues?  “It’s hard to budget for this kind of PC replacement.”  Her budget has stayed flat since she’s been there ($75,000).  She buys new PCs with free DOS, spends evenly across the year, buys big hardware at the end of the budget year and uses high school students to deploy.  Groovix comes out of the software budget, along with the ILS and Koha developments budgeted for completion prior to migration.  Groovix support is paid for annually and Mike manages all imaging for new PCs.
  • How do you sell this to a Board? “Put OpenOffice and FireFox along side Word and IE.”  Why do we pick Microsoft? For the support?  How often do we use that support?  How often do we instead go to Google and the community of users for support?  The numbers speak for themselves and Groovix proves itself.  She recommends keeping one retired machine, put it in as an OPAC machine or as a staff email machine for people to play with.

When changes come, Amy says, “I see nothing but opportunity.”  I think I’ll leave it at that!

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