Learning without Fear, and a Few Lessons in Between

How a self-­taught techie keeps one library up and running
Hearne, TX
Faye Hover

Faye Hover, the director and IT Manager of the Smith­Welch Memorial Library manages a slim staff—just three full­time librarians—yet manages to offer programs, services, and a lot of heart to the people of Hearne, Texas.

Located in one of the poorest counties in central Texas, this charming small library is home to 15 computers, a scanner, and a color printer, which patrons rely on for everything from printing business cards to applying to college. For many of the people who walk in the door of the library, the equipment they see is the only computer equipment they have access to. Lucky for them they have access to Faye Hover, too.

Prior to 1998, Hover had no experience with computers, and since then, you’ll never hear her use the word “fear” when talking about her experiences with technology. An avid believer that everyone should use computers, she believes there’s no age limit to learning about technology, and feels becoming computer literate is just a matter of wanting to do it. Hover has worked hard to become a largely self­taught one­woman IT team, installing, maintaining, and even purchasing equipment for the library all on her own.

Whereas many might have felt overwhelmed by the responsibility, Hover has embraced her role, enthusiastically taking up everything from refurbishing computers to setting up networks. In the process, she has proven that anyone can learn about technology if they approach it with an open mind ­­ and that the most valuable IT resource any organization can have is a generous spirit and a willingness to learn.

Looking and Learning

When Hover first arrived at Smith­Welch, the library had an IT person on staff who was reluctant to show her how to use the equipment. Undeterred, she went about teaching herself by carefully observing his configurations. "First, I looked at how he had everything set up. I didn't make any changes; I just looked at everything," she said. "Granted, you need to know a little bit about it, but if you just look at things first then you can learn, you can learn how to do it. It's just a matter of wanting to enough."

When she purchased her first computer nearly a decade ago, Hover quickly embraced it with the same eagerness. "I just fell in love with it," she said. "And any time that I am so passionate about something, I start reading and learning everything that I can about it. I've spent hundreds of dollars on books, learning how to operate computers, how to fix them, all about them."

Hover's enthusiasm for technology spills over into her work, where she has taught herself everything from maintaining a monthly backup schedule to configuring the server, approaching everything with the same can­do spirit. When she encounters something new, she reads a book on it; when funds are limited, she finds a grant or pays for it herself.

Indeed, Hover herself is perhaps Smith­Welch's most generous donor, readily purchasing software and equipment for the library out of her own pocket. It was she, in fact, who gave the library its first computer. "I purchased it myself and donated it to the library," said Hover, "because we had so few public computers."

In between all this, Hover still finds time to help patrons download tax forms, print up brochures, and even touch up photos. Yet unlike the IT staffer who didn't want to teach her, Hover takes pride in helping others use the equipment, especially those who might initially be fearful of new technologies.

"I want everybody to learn how to use the computer," she said, noting that she encourages her patrons not to be afraid of making mistakes. "You can't fear that you're going to screw up; you just have to get in there and say, 'Okay, I'm going to learn how to do this,'" she said. "I'm pretty old and my life has proven to me generally that there are very few things that you can't reverse. You can't ever take back words that you say in anger, but you can usually change anything. And if you're very careful when you're setting up something you can go slowly and see, 'Okay, well this works' and 'Okay, that's not a problem.'"

Fun and Games

Hover's insistence that technology be fun is evident in her choice of computer stations as well. In addition to the library's 10 public computers with Internet access, the library offers five computers designated solely for playing games, a feature that has proved popular with younger patrons.

"[The game computers] are constantly in use," Hover said. "The kids stand in line waiting to use them, because so many of our population does not have a computer at home."

As a result, many of the children learn to see computers as easy and fun, even while they are learning. "I thought, 'Well, if I get a game computer and put some interesting games and trick them into thinking they're having fun when they're really learning something, well this will be a good thing,'" Hover said.

Hover takes the game computers as seriously as she does the other public computers, updating and even refurbishing them herself. "I took some apart and one computer out of three ­­ and kept adding to it until we ended up with five game computers." She also purchased many of the games. I generally buy all the software," she said. "Just pay for it myself, because we don't have the money."

Group Policy: An Easy Way to Restore Desktops

One challenge that Hover has encountered on both the game computers and the other public computers is restoring the desktops. "[Kids] love to walk in the door, change everything on your desktop and then leave," Hover said. Tired of manually restoring all of the altered settings, she sought out a way to easily and automatically restrict user use and restore settings back to their original state.

Rather than purchase a third-­party application like SteadyState or Deep Freeze, Hover's search led her to a tool already built into her existing operating system called Group Policy, a Windows NT feature that allows an administrator to manage settings for a group of users. Through Group Policy, Hover could set up permissions and restrictions on public computers, permitting or denying user access to functions that could disrupt the default settings or harm the computer.

All by herself, Hover set up Group Policy on each of the library's 15 computers (the program can also be managed centrally over a server, but Hover preferred to install it on each machine individually). The tool, which she has used for the past two years, has been a godsend, she says, preventing users from downloading potentially harmful files or accessing the control panel or anything besides the desktop icons.

“[Group Policy] has been a real lifesaver here, not only with the game machines, but with our public computers," Hover said. "Once you get familiar with the various things that you can do with [Group Policy], you can lock them totally out of looking in the hard drives; they can't change things on the desktop; they can't even get into the all programs file list because you can block that."

Hover reports that Group Security works well with the other security applications the library uses, including Norton Internet Security and AdAware. "Of course, by using the Group Policy, you're eliminating a lot of your problems," Hover said. "But I [take every precaution]."

Learning from Mistakes

Yet despite the protective measures she has taken, Hover would be the last to dissuade someone from experimenting with a new technology for fear of failure.

"When I tell people, 'Let me teach you how to use the computer, you'll be amazed at how much it will broaden your world,' they often say, "Oh well, I'd probably mess it up right away,'" she said. "Well, it's just a machine and you just have to say, I’m probably not going to mess it up forever.' You take due diligence and you work at it and you can learn how to do it."

Oh, and that first computer Hover purchased for the library? "It's still working by the way," she said.