First Class and Class First:

An Emphasis on Learning
Ralston, Nebraska
Karen Mier

As the Computer Support Technician of the Hollis and Helen Baright Public Library in Ralston, Nebraska, Karen Mier is responsible for the library’s hardware and software, and for maintaining its website. She is also responsible for and very proud of the computer courses offered to the library’s patrons. 

Serving a Small Community

The Baright Public Library (BPL) serves Ralston, a community of approximately 6,000 people, and residents of Douglas County. There are 14 staff, including part-time employees. Of its 20 public computers, some are located in a computer lab with controlled, timed access, some are open-access computers, two are dedicated OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) terminals, and four are reserved for the children’s area. Content on all but one of the library’s public lab desktop computers is controlled through Websense, a filtering software. Patrons must be 18 years or older to use the unfiltered public lab computer.

Karen is always on the lookout for ways to make sure the library makes optimal use of its existing IT equipment. For example, when she first started working at the library, she noticed that the computers in the reference and OPAC area were older than a few of the machines kept in storage. She explains, “We got rid of the older machines and brought up the machines that were in storage that were actually newer and faster. So that was just better use of our inventory.” The City auctioned the oldest computers.

Karen also looks into various venues when she needs to buy software. She says that she is “not an early adopter on new software” and because of that, it is not always easy to find what she needs. For example, when she wanted to buy Microsoft Office 2003, she found that many companies no longer offered it.  She ended up buying it through TechSoup, which had various versions available.

Collaboration and Outside Help

Half of the library’s 20 public and 10 staff computers were purchased in 2005; these will be replaced within the next 18-24 months. The library is working towards a four- to five-year replacement cycle. A local company purchases and installs the computers and serves as Karen’s backup in maintaining and repairing the library’s existing computers. They installed a new server and router for the library this summer. Karen also consults the Nebraska Library Commission and tech friends on occasion.

Although the BPL is not a part of the Omaha Public Library System (OPLS), they work collaboratively and have a reciprocal borrowing agreement. OPLS provides catalog and Internet access on BPL’s desktop computers; however, when the BPL installed wireless Internet access in response to patrons’ requests, it set up a separate line.

Staying Current and Virus-Free

Karen reports that one of the library’s biggest issues with the public access computers has been patrons who save files to the desktop, which she says “she cleans off” each day. The library uses Fortress, a network security management software, to prevent downloads by patrons.

She believes that the biggest IT challenge she faces is installing new software and software updates to each of the computers. She shares, “I have to go around to all the machines – staff and public – and make sure that they’re all on the current version.” Although Karen has set up some of these programs on the public computers to update automatically, she still logs in as the system administrator to perform weekly maintenance.

Fun and (Educational) Games

In 2008, the library replaced the two children’s computers running Windows 98 with computers running Windows XP. Karen installed a program called Virtual CD that allowed her to install old games on CD into virtual drives on the new computers. Children no longer need to ask for a CD to play a game! She also used Parents’ Choice, a website that provides reviews of children’s media, to find new games that are both educational and inexpensive.

Karen designated a third computer in the children’s area as an Internet games computer. Nearly twenty desktop icons lead children to a variety of educational games on the Internet.

Staying Informed

With funding from the state of Nebraska, the Nebraska Library Commission provides the BPL and other libraries in the state with free access to a variety of databases, including thousands of current full-text magazines, journals, newspapers, and business information. Library patrons can access the databases through the library’s website or through a NebraskAccess link, which provides free access to citizens who enter a valid Nebraska driver’s license number. The BPL pays for other databases, such as an electronic version of Chilton Automotive Repair Manuals, which provides a less cumbersome alternative to the extensive print version. The databases provide a wealth of information, and Karen is trying to promote them on the library’s website to get more use out of them.

Responding to Patrons’ Needs

The library’s efforts to be attentive to its patrons are evidenced in many ways, such as when it installed wireless Internet access in response to patrons’ requests. The library also offers computer classes to its patrons, which Karen says have been popular. She provides handouts for the five different classes she teaches in English entitled “Basic Computer and Internet Skills,” “Intermediate Email,” “Word Processing,” “Using the Internet Wisely,” and “Excel Spreadsheets.” Her colleague offers the same classes in Spanish.

For patrons who want to work on editing their photos, Karen provided a desktop icon for Microsoft Office Picture Manager, software that allows users to manage, edit and share pictures. She says she is “all for finding free programs” and thus installed IrfanView, freeware that allows users to view, convert, and edit images. She has also incorporated tips on editing pictures into the Word class she teaches.

Future Plans

In the future, Karen would like to institute a four- to five-year replacement schedule for IT equipment and would like to install Windows 7 on all computers. In addition, a library space assessment was completed in 2009; part of the plan calls for an extension of the young adult area and computer lab, adding more computers to both of these locations. In the meantime, she continues to make sure that the library offers first class services and access to information, along with meaningful and helpful classes.