Linux Replaces Windows at Geneva Public Library

How an Alabama library turned a challenge into an opportunity
Geneva, AL
Marian Wynn

Marian Wynn, the Library Director at the Geneva Public Library in Geneva, Alabama, was faced with a difficult challenge in June 2006 when Microsoft announced it would no longer support Windows 98.

A majority of the computers in the library were Pentium I and II systems that wouldn't be able to run Windows XP or Vista, Microsoft's newest operating system. Wynn needed to find an inexpensive solution that would require less powerful hardware and would be a smooth transition for her patrons who were familiar with Windows interfaces. After some research, she chose Linux, a free, open source solution that met her usability requirements and was a cost effective solution that didn’t require purchasing new hardware.

“I had run across some information about a version of Linux called Ubuntu, and learned that it was very user friendly, menu-driven, and had a really nice desktop,” said Wynn. “So I thought the best thing to do is just to get it and try it.”

When Wynn received $15,000 in funding from the Library Services Technologies Act, she bought machines without an operating system, allowing her to install Ubuntu and save money on licensing fees. The first machine took her about three hours to configure, but most of the time involved just waiting for the updates to download. Now that she has DSL, this process is much faster.

“There are about five or six different Ubuntu versions just depending on whether you’re a church or a school or a library or just want the operating system,” said Wynn. She added that the other versions of Ubuntu can all be downloaded for free.

Wynn, a former computer technician, was amazed at Linux’s ease of use, though she relied on two books to familiarize herself with basic commands.

If she ran into something unusual, she posted her problem on the Ubuntu forums Web site, where she could find an answer to her question within a few hours. Users who had similar problems would often post to the forum, allowing Wynn to learn from their experiences.

Wynn said she believes that those who are comfortable working with Windows are good candidates for Linux -- though she suggested that those who lack computer knowledge or experience using Linux enroll in a class.

The Real Test: Library Patrons Use Linux

Wynn wasn't sure how the library's patrons would react to the unfamiliar operating system, but she has yet to hear any complaints about Ubuntu. To make a more seamless transition to the new operating system, she created desktop icons for applications such as the Firefox Web browser and Open Office that say, “Internet” or “word processor.” This smart solution helps patrons select the programs they need, rather than relying on a label promoting the manufacturer or brand.

“I’ve had several people comment on the speed, and also on the fact that they can bring in a document that was created in Word Perfect or Microsoft Word or Word Star or any other word processing program, and Open Office will open it up. You can make your edits, save it, print it, do whatever you want to with it, and save it in the original format. People have been very pleased. I haven’t had any real complaints.”

To ensure that younger patrons aren't using library computers to access questionable Web sites, Wynn uses a free filtering program called Dan's Guardian. (Ubuntu also offers its own filtering software called Christian Ubuntu that blocks adult Web sites and other content.)

“If I have my regular Ubuntu but I want the filtering system of the Christian Ubuntu, I just download it and install it,” said Wynn.

Wynn can use Linux's powerful user permissions to customize access to resources, helping to ensure that patrons can only perform certain tasks, such as saving work to a floppy or flash disk, instead of cluttering hard drives.

The Savings Continue

Wynn’s decision to use Ubuntu made a big impact on her library’s pocketbook and the resources she offers her community. With the money she saved using Linux, Wynn recently purchased twice as many new computers and upgraded her equipment considerably, including buying quality routers and an improved DSL router modem. She also upgraded her library’s automation software, which runs on a Linux machine. She held on to half of her library’s older computers—extending their life considerably using Ubuntu—and donated the remaining machines to local agencies that work with children. Wynn’s impressive resourcefulness guarantees a longer life for her computers while offering the programs patrons expect and the processing speed they desire.

“The speed of these machines is just unbelievable. I have one Windows machine left and--that’s in my office. And I don’t want to use it because it’s so slow compared to the other ones. So when there’s nobody in the library, I go and use one of the patron machines to get work done.”

Learn more about Linux