The Maine Course

Lessons from a Maine State Library Employee
Augusta, ME
Janet McKenney
As a steering committee member of the MaintainIT Project, the Coordinator of Learning and Technology Services of the Maine State Library, and a former circuit rider, Janet McKenney has learned invaluable lessons and has a wealth of advice to share. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a circuit rider is a shared systems administrator/technology consultant. Sometimes the libraries band together themselves to hire the circuit rider, but more often than not a regional library consortium or state library provides the service for its member libraries.

Network and Web Site Upgrades

During her years as a circuit rider, Janet says that issues arose from the significant bandwidth requirements of Microsoft Windows updates. She adds that another “huge obstacle was getting the updates done in a timely manner so that the computers were protected. If [staff] got behind in the updates, [the computers] would get some kind of worm… which actually caused major problems in our statewide network.” Because all of the schools and libraries were on the same network, and worms would move from one IP address to the next, a worm could – and did – infect the entire network.

In the past, individual libraries had to pay for the router to upgrade from 56k to T1, which, Janet says, “was a breaking point for a lot of small libraries that didn’t have the money to shell out $1,500 for a router.” But the bandwidth issue and the security problems it caused provided one of the impetuses for the state to upgrade libraries to a T1. In addition, a state fund pays for a portion of the libraries’ ongoing costs for the T1 circuit. Janet explains that once all the libraries were upgraded, it was easier for the circuit riders to automatically update all of the public machines and the incident rate of viruses and worms decreased dramatically.

Another huge change for the state is that approximately 200 of the libraries in Maine now have wireless Internet access thanks to a statewide grant. This addition is especially critical in a state with a laptop program that provides all seventh and eighth graders with MacBooks and that has a number of small coastal libraries with populations that swell with tourists during the summer months.

Janet, attending a meeting virtually According to Janet, another big push in the state is for “even the smallest of libraries to have a Web presence.” Through the statewide network, libraries have access to a shared Web server that enables them to have their Web site hosted at no cost. For those who don’t currently use the state network’s servers or another remote hosting service, Janet recommends that they consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), which refers to the initial purchase price of a product or service together with the long-term maintenance costs. With TCO in mind, she advises libraries that do not have a full-time IT person to consider remote hosting of their web site and library catalog/automation system, since it saves the staff from doing backups and maintaining a server. Some libraries have voiced concerns about the security of remote hosting. In response, Janet offers an example of a small library whose new server was stolen from its own building. She says that staff must weigh the different risks and costs associated with onsite and offsite hosting.

Sometimes the people in charge of maintaining the site for each library feel overburdened, and Janet believes that the burden would be lessened if the responsibility for content updates were shared with non-technical library staff. For example, the children’s librarian could be responsible for updating the children’s page. Also, since Web sites across the state were created with a wide variety of software, they’re often difficult to maintain and Janet can’t provide training on all the different applications. In order to address this issue of consistency and the issue of distributed control, Janet is thinking about adopting a content management system such as Plone, MODx or Joomla. Adopting a content management system would ensure consistency across sites and also make it easier to provide training.

Backup and Restoration

Janet believes that backup is one of the biggest issues for a small to medium-sized library with an automated circulation and cataloging system. Some libraries that had set up a tape backup found it was not working once disaster struck. She explains, “So that was a real problem in not knowing how the tape backup worked – how they could verify that the current data was on there because it was set up by somebody else who kind of clapped their hands and said, ‘Okay. Everything’s good.’” She says that after these backup failures happened, many of the libraries reverted to backing up folders onto Zip drives, CDs, or USB devices because they found the tape backups “more convoluted and more difficult to check.”

Desktop Security

Another issue Janet has dealt with is computer security at the desktop level. She says she has seen “a great interest in products like Deep Freeze to keep public access machines running well after each patron [session].” Based on popular interest, she would also like to do a webinar on Windows SteadyState, which would offer library staff a free alternative to commercial products such as Deep Freeze and CenturionGuard.

Security versus Accessibility

Janet feels that sometimes issues arise from the tension between helping patrons getting the most out of their computer experience and the need for security. She offers the example of patrons who bring in flash drives and cameras to a library with a policy that disallows patrons from plugging in their own devices. Similarly, many libraries have had a policy that does not allow patrons to use email. But, she says, “state government has announced to everybody in the state that ‘x’ amount of libraries are part of this MSLN (Maine School and Library Network), [which is] part of this free Internet access for people visiting the state, and this many have wireless and they can check their email.” She says this can run counter to the policies of some libraries, which “ have to rethink how the changing technology changes everything.” It is a struggle to have Internet use Policies keep up-to-date with the pace of technological change.

Similarly, there’s a tension between patron expectations and concerns about the safety of children. She offers the example of libraries’ policies regarding social networking sites. Some of the libraries in the state have Facebook and MySpace pages, while in other libraries these sites are banned because of a desire to protect young patrons from predators.

Sharing Information and Technology Training with Maine Librarians

Janet is devoted to sharing information through a variety of methods that include webinars and face-to-face training. She says the most successful webinars do not last longer than an hour, because, as she explains,

“I think most people can carve out an hour of their day to either listen to something or try to attend something live, but when you start talking about half-day workshops and two- and three-hour workshops, all of a sudden you lose a certain amount of people. They can’t be away that long.”

Through WebJunction, Janet offers her webinars on Wimba Classrooms, which are real-time virtual classrooms designed for distance education and online collaboration. She says that Wimba has worked “pretty well in Maine” and “people really like the Wimba Voice over IP” because they don’t have to tie up their phone line in order to hear the audio portion of the class.

She has conducted two webinars on E-rate (a discount that schools and libraries receive for the acquisition of telecommunication services; eligible schools and libraries can receive discounts of 20 to 90 percent on telecommunication services, Internet access and internal connections necessary for deploying technology). She says these E-rate seminars “were very well received because we actually went through the form step by step.”

Janet is in the throes of planning another webinar on public computer reservation systems such as CASSIE's Web Reservation Module, EnvisionWare’s PC Reservation, Time Limit Manager by Fortres, Pharos SignUp, Userful Pre-Book, and CybraryN. The course would provide an overview and capabilities of the different products available, and feedback from current users.

Janet used information from one of MaintainIT’s Cookbooks as a foundation to build the public computer reservation systems course. She subsequently spoke with staff from at least five libraries in the state that are using the various systems, all of whom would put together a “mini-presentation” of slides and field questions from attendees. She says, “We’ve got people using some of the same products but kind of in different ways and levels.” Another consideration in developing the course is that not all of the software “talks to” the patron database – in other words, it “works outside of their system and outside of their computers.” Janet also participated in a grassroots gathering of IT librarians to discuss PC Reservation systems and inform her course preparation.

She also conducted a face-to-face training entitled, “How to Automate Your Small Library,” an especially critical topic in a state where 100 of the 275 or more libraries are not yet automated. She subsequently posted the Powerpoint presentation to WebJunction, and has considered doing a webinar on it. She says that although time management is not necessarily a justification for some of the smaller libraries that may check out as few as ten books a day, a few other critical factors justify automation. She explains:

“The push toward automation is actually to have an inventory for insurance purposes and to make the catalog accessible online so that people in their community can see if they have a book and reserve it online.”

Keeping Up with Technology

To keep up-to-date, Janet listens to podcasts such as the SirsiDynix Institute and reads ALA’s Library Technology Reports. She also relies on WebJunction, where she “has a watch on a lot of discussion groups.” She also pays careful attention to technology issues on what she describes “as a very active Listserv in Maine”, both because she answers people’s questions and because she uses recurring topics to help shape her webinars.

Janet shares that some library personnel feel pressured to stay current on technology. She says that those personnel “with a certain level of savviness” believe that if they let up for a minute on technology, something might escape them and they will fall behind. For example, she says that the fact that one library in the state is doing Second Life Library 2.0 and others are maintaining blogs has caused many of their other libraries to wonder whether they should be doing those activities as well. She adds that when directors’ time is stretched too thin, the first thing to give is often the time that directors could be spending on training and reading “to stay ahead” of technology.

Future Ideas

Janet is considering making statewide trainings more “hands-on,” a concept she once heard described as “a virtual petting zoo.” For example, she says she wants attendees to be able to “see and get their hands on new stuff” such as a PC reservation system, an Amazon Kindle, and a mobile website on an iPhone. In the meantime, with Janet’s wealth of knowledge and her willingness to share, everyone stands to benefit.