David Emprimo of Jacksonville Public Library in Texas once avoided computers at all costs. Now, as Head of Technical Services, he is in charge of maintaining the library’s computers.
Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) serves a population of approximately 14,000 people in the city of Jacksonville in East Texas, but also extends its services out to people who live within Cherokee County. The library has 18 public-access computers with Internet access and six more to search the card catalog. The staff consists of eight people, which includes David, the library director, the children’s librarian, and five other full- and part-time employees who work at the circulation desk over the course of the day.
With a chuckle, David says that he is in charge of maintaining the computers “for better or for worse.” When he was younger, he says, he was not a computer person and avoided them “as long as possible, until I was in college.” He took a computer literacy course in high school but “would not touch a computer outside of school.” But his first job at the library was doing data entry, and when he came on full-time, the staff looked at him and said, “Okay, he’s young, he’s male. That’s our computer guy.”
Getting Help from IT Consultants and the Community
David has come a long way from his days of shunning computers. He has learned a great deal from attending workshops and studying on his own. But he has also learned from the library’s IT consultants, explaining, “There is not one computer consultant in town who considers [his knowledge] as a trade secret. They are very free with their knowledge and we’ve had a wonderful relationship with them.”
He says that from the very beginning, he has let the consultants know he wants to learn how to do some of the work himself. They are generous with their information, knowing that David will call them when he needs additional assistance. David describes the relationship as “a give and take.” The consultants are local and can offer the library immediate onsite help and good warranties. Between 60 to 80 percent of the time, the consultants are able to underbid other organizations. David explains that these consultants are well aware of the library’s setup and do not try to sell him things he does not need.
David says that he can usually fix software issues, but his biggest challenges have to do with hardware. He is able do such tasks as switching out a hard drive and installing memory and CD-ROMs, but calls in a local consultant for more difficult tasks.
When looking for an IT person, David advises that one should give priority to those who are familiar with modern equipment. They must also understand the library environment, recognizing that it has different needs than a business. David is particularly savvy about a library’s unique needs, as he also works in a seminary in which the setup is completely different. At the library, David runs programs locally on each computer so a server problem won’t affect the resources on the public access computers. In contrast, he says, it makes more sense to have everything centralized at the seminary.
David adds that they also have an informal partnership with community organizations. He explains that people from the church libraries will sometimes call him with questions. In addition to the consultants, he doesn’t have any qualms about calling people in the community who he knows can help him.
Working as a Team
David appears to have an equally positive relationship with his staff. He explains that when his staff are having technical troubles, he just tries to reassure them that everyone experiences those same problems when they’re starting out. He adds, “A lot of it is in the way you phrase your answer.” In other words, in a non-accusatory tone, he tells employees that it is not what they are doing wrong – it’s the way that the computer needs it to be done. He says his front desk staff do their best to help patrons with basic troubleshooting issues before they call on him.
Similarly, David also has a good relationship with the library director, who, he says, is always open to his ideas. He explains that when he presents suggestions to her, that “a good portion of the time we end up going with, if not exactly what I’ve suggested, at least a compromise.”
From Indifference to Making a Difference
JPL offered its first dial-up Internet-access computer in 1997. Later that same year, the library obtained ten more computers and instituted a time limit policy. Patrons have access to computers for thirty minutes on Saturdays, when the library is only open for four hours, and an hour on weekdays. When they first started, they used a sign-in sheet, and patrons had access to the computers on a first-come, first-served basis.
But David is always on the lookout for time-saving tips and methods. One such discovery is WatchDog, a computer and network monitoring software. He installed it on each individual machine and found that the computers no longer required a great deal of maintenance. He used to have to import the passwords each night, but he tinkered around with the computers one night and found that WatchDog kept the passwords in a registry key. Within an hour, he discovered it was possible to set up the computers so that they imported that registry key each time Windows starts. The library’s new computers have Centurion Guard, which offers hard drive and configuration protection.
David really works to let the computers do as much as possible. On Sundays, when the library is closed, he leaves the computers turned on to let them do their maintenance. One principal consideration in choosing maintenance software is that it does as much of the general cleanup on its own. He has a folder on every computer of free clean-up software that includes SpyBot Search & Destroy, an anti-spyware software and CCleaner,a freeware system optimization, privacy, and cleaning tool.
David says that the library is using open-source software as much as possible, given that a lot of it is written for Linux. He adds, “I’m very big on free software – if I can find it, I will use it, even if it means using two or three different programs to do what I could do with one that I had to pay for.” Currently, the only open-source used on the public computers is Firefox, a free Internet browser provided by the Mozilla project.
David admits that although staff haven’t done a technology plan lately and need to update it, in the past they have used Belarc Advisor, a system management tool that builds a detailed profile of a computer’s installed software and hardware. The next time staff create a plan, he intends to use TechAtlas, a free resource for libraries to support technology planning and management. In regards to the future, he keeps an eye on current trends and conducts an assessment of patrons’ needs every two to three years.
David has also considered using Enterprise software, but because he buys a few computers at a time, feels it would be prohibitive to keep disk images of so many set-ups. He adds that he would like to aim toward a more standardized system, but has yet to discuss that with the library director.
JPL has been offering computer classes to its patrons for more than five years, using funds from the Texas State Library’s Loan Star Libraries program. But because they were using public access computers for the classes, the sessions were limited to two weekday mornings before noon, when the library was closed to the public.
Staff decided to put together a thin client lab, or a group of client computers that depends primarily on the central server for processing activities, and focuses on conveying input and output between the user and the remote server. David explains that the library’s entire computer lab fits into a regular blue storage unit, and he wanted to set up something in the library’s auditorium that they could set up and tear down easily. They considered using laptops, but had read that laptops are harder for older patrons to handle. But with thin clients, patrons could still “get the experience of a full-size computer but it wouldn’t take up as much room.” They finally ended up choosing Hewlett Packard thin clients with 17-inch flat screen monitors, and set them up in the auditorium in a u-shaped formation whenever classes are in session.
The library applied for and received a grant that covered the costs of the thin clients, along with the server, the licenses, and the software – and allowed for eleven connections to the thin clients. It also allowed for three extra rounds of classes for the first year, bringing the total up to six rounds for that year. They now offer the classes in the afternoons and evenings – whenever the auditorium is not in use. Each round runs about five weeks, and includes classes on Microsoft Windows, File Management, Internet, Email, Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.
David explains that in terms of future plans, “at the moment, we are sort of at a plateau.” They are still using Windows XP and are not yet ready to implement Windows Vista because neither he nor his staff knows much about Vista. For the same reasons, they are still using Microsoft Office 2003 instead of Office 2007.
But David has come a long ways from the days when he would shy away from computers. As he explains, “There was a time when I’d open up a computer and be afraid to touch anything. I’m not as afraid now to reach in there and fiddle around. The greatest success is that we’re able to do a lot of [maintenance] ourselves. There is very little that we are not able to take care of ourselves. I think a lot of libraries would find that they could do the same thing. It just takes getting in there and doing it.” And, he adds, “You’re never too old or young to get in there and learn it.”