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This chapter takes an in-depth look at two of the libraries that were part of the study on open source public workstations. Most libraries can use these two organizations as examples of how to set up an efficient, cost-effective open source system.
These two libraries were selected because each has extensive experience with open source software, because the use of open source software is pervasive in their organizations, and because they have--through their internal development activities, sponsorship of open source projects, and writing--made significant contributions to both the library and the open source communities.
When looking at this section, it may be helpful to look at these libraries with an eye towards organizational issues. Consider the following characteristics of organizations that successfully implement technology projects: (1)
* They encourage and allow time for employees to attend training.
* They hold effective meetings. Meetings are held on time, with an agenda and action plan as well as clear goals and objectives.
* They develop detailed project plans when taking on projects involving new services or technology.
* They have in-house technical support and don't depend on a city, county, university, or school IT department for support.
* Their technical support personnel are familiar with open source applications.
* Their employees have a clear sense of how using open source software will help them to meet organizational goals and objectives.
* They like to provide leading-edge services to patrons.
* They encourage risk taking.
* They provide strong technical support services for patrons.
* They use project management software to track progress when implementing projects involving new services or technology.
These characteristics do, in many respects, describe both of the libraries profiled in this chapter.
Howard County Library
Howard County Library (HCL) is a well-funded suburban library system located outside of Washington, D.C. It has six branches, 250,000 titles, and approximately one million items. Its collection continues to grow rapidly. Circulation is about five million transactions per year. Impressively, active library users constitute about 50 percent of the library's service population, perhaps because the library has a strong commitment to providing the best possible customer experience.
In 1999, Brian Auger, deputy executive director of HCL, attended a demonstration of the Dynix Horizon integrated library system (ILS). One of the claims made at the demonstration was that future versions of the software would require only a Web browser to access all functions. At that time, HCL was using Windows NT on its public-access computers, and despite using Fortres 101 and a variety of configuration tweaks to secure the stations, it was still having significant problems with viruses and reliability. Workstations were frequently down or malfunctioning. Auger was intrigued by the idea that if Windows were not needed to run the library's ILS client, it might be possible to switch to a more secure and reliable operating system on the library's public workstations. "If that were true," he said, "we would be able to eliminate all the problems inherent in maintaining multiple Windows operating systems--patches, drivers, and fixes--by simply migrating to a Linux client environment." (2)
In early 2000, Luis Salazar joined the HCL staff as network engineer. Salazar had system administration experience with Solaris, Sun's Unix variant. For the fun of it and to keep his skills up, Salazar began to experiment with the Linux operating system. While Solaris and Linux have different source code, the utilities and the command line environment are quite similar. Soon he was thinking about how they could use Linux in the library.
Eventually, with Auger's support, he and Mike Ricksecker, network specialist at HCL, began working on their own Linux distribution called LuMix-Luis and Mike Linux. Initially, the idea was that the library would continue to maintain separate Windows NT machines for word processing stations. LuMix would be used only for Internet and catalog-access stations. The Firefox browser was the main user interface. There were limited applications. Users could download and view word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation content from the Internet using OpenOffice.org software. They could save to floppy disks (later thumb drives), and they could print. They were aided by the fact that the library had already taken steps to standardize its PC hardware. Salazar and Ricksecker report no troubles with hardware compatibility with the Dell PCs they were using; all the necessary drivers were already available. (3)
The first LuMix distribution went into production at HCL in 2003, first at one of the branches, then eventually in all of the Howard County locations. Library users seemed to like the new workstations--they were used constantly. "People came in and started using the browser," Salazar said. "Most of the stuff they expected to do, like at an Internet cafe, …