Overhauling the System from the Bottom Up

How one librarian is reinforcing the foundation of a "Leaning Tower of Pisa" network
Bossier City, LA
Jaketha Farmer

Located in the heart of the Deep South, Bossier Parish, Louisiana is home to nearly 100,000 people. Within the 935-square-mile county are the seven branches of the Bossier Parish Libraries, with the Bossier Central Library near Shreveport at the system's center. New to the library, in both role and person, is Jaketha Farmer.

Farmer recently joined the Bossier Parish Libraries as its first-ever Systems Administrator and already she has big plans for the branches — starting with overhauling the network of more than 200 computers. It’s a big job for one person, but Farmer has the drive and the spirit to take on the library's considerable IT infrastructure.


“I am the first person that they have hired that works exclusively with IT," she said. "Before, they've had [staff] where IT was a small portion of their job and not their main job, so I was hired to focus strictly on that. I deal with the servers, software installation, licensing vendors,hardware problems, all of that.”

Farmer manages the IT and system administration for all seven of the libraries, which include everything from catalog computers to full computer systems running software like Microsoft Office. Not only does she manage all the various machines that patrons use, but she oversees all the technology for the staff computers throughout the branches as well.

"It's bad, it's bad, it's bad."

When Farmer joined the Bossier Parish Libraries in late 2007, the whole system was managed by a loose network of “accidental techie” staff at the different branches.

Just trying to understand how systems were previously set up was a huge challenge, since a single source for all the network information did not exist. “When I first got here I didn't have a single clue, because really and truthfully there was nobody here to say, 'Look, this is the state of our network.' Everybody just said, 'It's bad, it's bad, it's bad.’”

Facing everything from different computers running different programs to systems never being backed up, Farmer took a step back to the basics. It wasn’t only the computers that needed updating, but also how staff and patrons were using equipment without being invested in maintaining it. Farmer understood how important it was to get the infrastructure and maintenance in place before adding more to the pile. “I began to describe the network as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You know, 'We’re not putting anything else on top of this until we get control over our network!' Add another floor to that tower and it’s gonna fall.”

A System-Wide Assessment

With that thought in mind, Farmer got to work doing a system-wide assessment of the state of all computers: which programs they were running, if they’d been updated recently, whether they were still covered by warranties, who was maintaining them at each branch, if they had valid product licenses, and if their virus protection systems were up-to-date. What she found led her to request a full system overhaul, with new systems and processes for maintaining the machines, but also for new equipment and trainings for staff.

“Without a domain, staff had full-blown access to their machines and they'd been saving and downloading and doing whatever they want on these machines for years," she said. "And they had software and files that they'd been working on for years on computers that had never been backed up. Also, the antivirus software was maybe on a 150 computers and we only had 100 licenses. That's a problem.”

A New Chain of Command

Finding the problems wasn’t very difficult. Figuring out how to solve them has been the real challenge. After sleuthing out the sources of trouble, Farmer started implementing new systems of accountability and policies to ensure that the problems are solved over time. She knew that it would be impossible for one person to bear the whole burden of updating machines, backing things up, and keeping computers functioning well across seven branches and 200 computers. Despite some initial pushback, Farmer has been able to implement a chain of command at each branch for IT-related issues.

“The number-one person on the list must be the branch manager," she said. "That is the person who is responsible for the technology at their branch. They have to know what's going on, when is it going on, how is it going on, has it been fixed, has it not been fixed. Basically they are responsible for keeping up with IT in their branch. The branch manager will actually be given an account to SysAid, the online help desk, and submit problems under certain designated categories. They will be issued a help-desk ticket and that way we can keep up with what's going on.”

In addition, each staff person is now assigned computers and they are responsible for running regular maintenance on their own machines. “I am working on the instructions for preventative maintenance,"Farmer said. "I am typing out the instructions for Windows XP for telling them how to set up their Windows updates and how they have to do virus scan weekly. Monthly they're going to have to do their own Windows and Office updates, defrag, check disk, scan disc, and delete their temporary files. Twice a year they're going to have to clean their computer area with anti-static wipes. I'm making them accountable until the domain comes in to provide maintenance on their computer because if they can sit there and put pictures and screen savers and all this other fancy stuff on their computer that's eating up memory, they can take the time to go through and do their own maintenance.”

Ongoing Assistance

Even though it’s sometimes difficult to get staff to adopt the changes, Farmer understands that she’ll be right there with them to help train and assist with the process. “After every staff meeting once a month I’ll do a training session on something that the staff needs to know, the managers and supervisors need to know, and then they're supposed to relay that to the staff," she said. "Coming in the door, I realized as the IT person you really can't be everybody's friend. You have to really stand your ground in systems. You have to be strong to do this, you really do.”

While Farmer gets the new communications and accountability systems fully up and running she’s already managed to get a new domain installed and has expanded current systems and add new programs. She recently hired her first IT assistant to help her roll out new programs, like the monthly patron computer classes that started in May and will run through October each year. From Internet safety tutorials to a video game day, the classes are bringing patrons in to learn about new technologies, expand their skills, and engage in the community.

In addition, Farmer has implemented a new library Web site (www.bossierlibrary.org) and a series of new blogs targeting kids, teens, and digital lovers. Down the road, Farmer is planning for a full print-management system, a new audio books feature for patrons, a Cymphonix device to filter content for bandwidth usage and viruses, online Web meetings and tech trainings for staff, and a regular replacement process for new and existing machines and technology.

With Jaketha Farmer at the IT helm, Bossier Parish Libraries will improve its tech foundation and build on it with cutting-edge systems and services for the communities throughout the county. “It'll be a system," she said. "Instead of bringing a single computer in and dealing with that alone, I'm bringing it into a foundation — to a network that's established to work with it.”