I spent a few hours at the library yesterday, somewhere between three and four. Almost all of this time was spent doing Windows updates to the three semi-public machines. The library got broadband a few months ago and updates were basically impossible before then. So I came in, unlocked the Centurion Guard (quick aside, can anyone tell me if this is really in any way more secure than a good software firewall like Deep Freeze if you’re just using the machines as PACs?) and did the updates which involved downloading the updater, doing an express install of the most urgent updates, and then doing a more complete install of the 53 updates that had been made available since the last update.
I also installed Firefox on the exec and patron-facing profiles, did some helpful configging of it, taught the librarian how it was different (tabs!), and hid Internet Explorer as much as I could without uninstalling it since I still need it for more Windows Updates! While all these downloads were happening, I ordered a $40 wireless router, replaced the “you can not IM here” sign with one that said “Use Meebo for IM” and explained to the librarian how Meebo worked, and even used it to IM with someone the librarian already knew, who happens to be a local buddy of mine.
Since the downloads were still going on, I gave the librarian and the trustee I was working with a pep talk about the importance of having a website and my firm assessment that once we built a little website, most of the maintenance and updating could be done by them. The library was a little hub of activity the entire evening. 1,300 people live in the town and probably twenty of them came into the library in a three hour period. I got introduced to almost all of them.
Nothing else really to add here except that a lot of this work just fell under the heading of 1) good advice and 2) deferred maintenance. Neither of them always seems like the best way of spending your limited time and money. Yet at the same time, the whole “getting to yes” part of library tecnology may be, at the end of the day, the most important part of a solid technology foundation.
TechnoBiblio asks a question that I’ve also wondered: what’s a good PAC to patron ratio? However, he doesn’t just sort of idly ponder the question, he goes and looks it up and sees what some states are recommending. Our DoL minimum standards for public libraries are online here (pdf, please note the gopher_root in the URL). The minimum standards include these line items: “Has a computer for [staff] access to the Vermont Automated Libraries System (VALS).” and “Offers some free public access to VALS and the Internet.” I can tell you exactly what the libraries near me have, and what populations they serve.
- Kimball Library, Randolph – serves 6,000 people, five PACs, high speed, wifi
- Tunbridge Library, Tunbridge – serves 1300 people, two PACs +1, dial-up
- Baxter Library, Sharon – serves 1400 people, +1, dial-up
- Roxbury Library, Roxbury – serves 576, 1 PAC, dial-up
- Ainsworth Library, Williamstown – serves 3200 people, 1 PAC +1, high speed
- Calef Library, Washington – serves 1000 people, 1 PAC + 1, high speed, wifi
There are 190 public libraries (pdf) in Vermont. Thirty-two serve populations over 5,000. Between all the libraries, they owned 1,122 computers at the end of 2004, according to their 2005 Biennial Roundup (pdf). Out of these 781 were available to the public as of 2005 (pdf). My “+1” indicator above means that there is a staff computer in the library frequently used by the public; I’m not sure if this is reflected in these stats. 159 of these 781 computers had public Internet access, 130 had high-speed access. This access to computers and fast internet is not distributed evenly. The last library I worked at had eleven of these public computers with high speed access and I’m sure the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington has this many as well.
According to the DoLs Biennial Report Supplment, the 32 libraries that serve over 5,000 people, have 341 public PCs. Also according to this report, these 32 libraries get 60% of all visits to Vermont public libraries. Contrast this to the 40 libraries in Vermont who serve populations of under 1000. They have 50 public PCs total among all of them. Eleven of these libraries offer high-speed access. Many of the libraries did not report their statistics so there is some skewing, but seven of the libraries who serve less than 1000 people have no Internet access at all, and 14 have dial-up.
The total operating income for all public libraries in the state of Vermont is $16,524,383 of which $10,914,150 is spent on salaries and benefits.