All Systems Go

Serving Existing Branches and Planning for New Ones
Gainesville, Georgia
Jarvis Sims

As the Technology Services Manager of the Hall County Library System headquartered in Gainesville, Georgia, Jarvis Sims has learned invaluable lessons, both from his experience managing existing branches, to everything involved in planning for the construction of a new building.

Serving an Existing Library System

The Hall County Library System consists of six branches, one of which opened in 2008. Jarvis has the help of two IT staff persons, and the library systems’ other employees are devoted to cataloguing and processing. The library system has over 250 public computers, including staff machines. Jarvis works at the headquarters branch, which hosts about 100 of the systems’ public computers. Most of the computers’ processes are automated, which saves staff time. Staff also save time by using EnvisionWare software for time and print management, which Jarvis describes as “not cheap at all, but worth it.”

The library systems’ IT staff aim for a three-year replacement schedule, since, as Jarvis explains, they do not expect computers to “work pristinely” after a three-year period. For those libraries who have computers with significant issues but do not always have the money to purchase new equipment, Jarvis advises that staff upgrade the computers’ RAM to the extent possible and put a fresh image on them. On computers with more severe issues, Jarvis suggests running a new operating system, which he explains will fix most problems.

Saving Time with Ghost Imaging

Jarvis is quite familiar with how ghost imaging can either fix problems or save time. The library system recently received a grant as part of Georgia’s Senate Bill 226, also known as “Joshua’s Law.” Effective January 1, 2007, Joshua’s Law requires all sixteen-year-olds to complete a Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) approved 30-hour driver education course. Drivers who have not completed the course must wait until they are seventeen years old to be eligible for the license.

The library system received twelve computers as part of the grant. IT staff configured one of the computers to have everything it needed, and then used ghost imaging software to set up the remaining 11 computers, which Jarvis describes as “a quick process” that took approximately nine hours. He shares that if they had done each computer individually, it would have taken the IT team approximately a week to complete the imaging.

Filtering and Remote Access

Jarvis shares that filtering is their library systems’ biggest challenge. As he explains, “You can’t filter everything, and if you put too advanced a filter on [the computers], then you’ll block out stuff that you really want to see.” Patrons who repeatedly look at inappropriate content run the risk of having their library privileges revoked. The library has had numerous incidents in which patrons have looked at inappropriate material and staff have had to call the authorities on more than one occasion.

The IT team uses Virtual Network Computing (VNC) for its remote access to computers in the various branches. Jarvis describes it as a “lifesaver,” adding, “We use [it] all the time – from just logging into the computer to changing the printers or the default printer. The state gives the library system a large IP range for every branch and, as Jarvis explains, “With them being on a public IP address, the virtual network controller is awesome. We just pull up the controller, type in its IP address, and we get control over that machine. Even if someone’s on it, we can take control over their mouse, see what they’re doing wrong, and show them the right way to do it.”

Given the high incidence rate of patrons looking at questionable content, he has also used VNC to ensure that patrons are looking at appropriate websites. He adds, “A lot of people may not like it, but our director has stated this is a public building, and these are public machines.” The time management software allows IT staff to send warning messages to offenders.

Helpful Ideas for a Help Desk

Staff of the Hall County Library System use Outlook for their email and for public folders. Jarvis shares that they began using Outlook for public folders because the system did not have an acquisitions module within its cataloguing system. Jarvis created a form in Outlook into which branch staff can record information about patrons’ requested materials. The data is maintained on the server until an acquisitions employee completes the request.

He believes this same system could be used for a Help Desk system. In the meantime, Branch staff report computer problems by sending Help Desk tickets through Liberum Help Desk, a free, web-based help desk software that runs on Windows. They have used this system for several years and describe it as “great,” but should they ever have to pay for the Help Desk software, Jarvis says he will consider using Outlook instead.

Increasing Need for Bandwidth

As with most libraries, the Hall County Library System has experienced an increased need for more bandwidth, which is impacted greatly by increased video usage. When Jarvis first started working at the library over four years ago, it had one T1 line and it now has three. Library patrons can download audio books, videos, and movies from the systems’ website. Although it takes more bandwidth from the system when patrons download the materials in the library, Jarvis says that many patrons are not able to download such large files at home. He explains, “If we’re going to offer it, then I don’t think we should tell them they can’t do it here.” He adds, “In a lot of situations, we’d prefer them to come do it here first, because we know it will work here, and then go home and try it."

Sharing Knowledge with Patrons

Patrons who show such interest in learning how to download audio and video files can take classes offered by the library system. In addition, the library offers classes on other topics such as Microsoft Office, an introductory course on the Internet, and digital photography. The courses are provided about two to three times per week, and evolve based on patrons’ interests. Jarvis has also considered offering more advanced courses such as training on Adobe Dreamweaver and Adobe Flash Player.

The majority of the classes are offered in a computer lab in the library systems’ second largest branch. This branch has had the greatest turnout when they offer training, which is due, in part, to the fact that it offers courses on the weekends. The labs in the majority of branches have an instructor’s station and ten user’s stations, with two rows of five computers facing each other. The new branch has two labs, divided by a connector wall that can be opened for larger classes.

When setting up a computer lab, Jarvis advises that staff must first consider security, as a lab is often set apart from the rest of the building. In each of his library system’s labs, they have had a camera installed to provide security for both the people and the computers. They have also installed Centurion Technologies’ CenturionGuard, a PC hardware and software based security product, on the computers. The lab computers are set up so that every time they restart, everything users have done is wiped clean and reset “to exactly the way it was before they sat down.”  When classes are not in session, the computer lab is available to the public for general use. Jarvis describes it as “a nice quiet place. It’s a nice place to go and get something done.”

Communicating and Learning with Staff

Jarvis believes that his staff sometimes hesitate to bring issues to the IT team’s attention, and he and his team therefore remind them that they should send Help Desk tickets for any problem, no matter how big or small they believe it is. He explains that library staff sometimes feel embarrassed to mention issues that they feel they should know how to solve themselves. He therefore consistently reiterates the message that no issue is too minor. He reminds them:

“A lot of people don’t know how to do this. I’ve been to school a long time to know how to do this, so don’t feel like if I know how to do it, you should, too.”

Jarvis believes that using a common lingo helps with a great deal of communication problems. For example, he might get a call from one of the branches in which the staff person says, “We’re down.” An IT person might assume that the whole network is down, but a librarian might simply be referring to one computer. So he works to get the staff to learn more specific language and convey the precise problem, which often helps get problems fixed more expeditiously. Jarvis also prefers to work alongside his staff and IT team, explaining, “I don’t like to sit at my desk.” He feels this hands-on approach lets staff know that he is their coworker and their colleague, versus “this guy sitting on a hill” who “sits behind a desk all day long and passes out orders.”

Jarvis and his team have used BSR Screen Recorder, a software that captures video, sound and pictures on a computer screen, to record training sessions with employees on such topics as how to send a Help Desk ticket and how to take care of the self-check machines. New hires can download the instructional videos from the library systems’ website.

Planning for Technology in a New Building

The library system opened a new branch in the spring of 2008, which involved a great deal of planning, scheduling and organization for the IT department. Before they moved in, Jarvis’s boss laid out a blueprint for him, and explained what they wanted and how much money had been budgeted for IT. While Jarvis prefers all of the public access computers to be setup in one common area, his boss wanted them to be spread out throughout the building. So they compromised. They set up two computer labs in the building with approximately 15 computers in each lab. The Children’s Area and the Teens’ Area each have a bank of computers, and the staff have their own PCs. All in all, the branch has a total of approximately 60 computers – a number that Jarvis explains was determined by the layout of the building.

The IT team also wanted the new building to be wireless. Jarvis managed to get a consulting company to look at the library’s blueprints and provide them with a free quote on how many network drops would need to be installed in the building. He also worked with the assistant director to order furniture that would allow patrons to plug in their computers without having to crawl underneath the tables.

This was Jarvis’s first experience with orchestrating the IT requirements of a new building, and as such, he says he has “learned some major lessons.”

He shares that the most helpful thing he has done is to “make a large list of every piece of equipment that has to go into the [new] building, from the barcode scanners, to the receipt printers, to the projectors in the meeting rooms – everything. Basically everything that plus into a wall socket – I have on that list.”

For each item on the list, he found prices and potential vendors, and then submitted the list to his director for approval. Based on approval, Jarvis subsequently created a timeline for when staff would have to obtain each item on the list.

Because some of the equipment was new, Jarvis scheduled training for staff before the library opened to the public. He also arranged for the branch’s newly hired manager to work in every department of the headquarters branch, including IT, in case the training did not cover everything.

Librarians must know and learn a great deal to keep up with the demands of their existing libraries and even more to plan for the construction of new ones. But when you have IT staff like Jarvis, it is all systems go.