Library launches a new system

Updated computers offer customers more functionality, services and access, says the head of technology services

September 24, 2006

Editor's note: Last week, Howard County Library launched a new system for its computers. The Sun asked Amy Begg De Groff, the head of Library Technology Services, to talk about Groovix and its benefits.

Question: What is Groovix?

De Groff: Groovix is a Linux-based operating system running on every customer computer at Howard County Library. It is developed and supported by a Wisconsin-based vendor, Open Sense Solutions. Groovix can be deployed on a single computer but used by up to six customers at the same time - or on a single computer.

Question: Why did the library deploy Groovix?

De Groff: Howard County Library customers arrive at the six branches with varying and sophisticated computing needs. The use of our computers by customers falls into three categories - personal correspondence (e-mail or drafting letters); banking and other personal transactions (eBay sales or purchases); and seeking information - from our collections or the Internet.

We needed to provide a secure area where customers could do all these things - using our existing fleet of computers (some of which are six years old). Many popular operating systems require a great deal of memory and computing power to run - we prefer to use funds (provided by county taxpayers) to expand our collections, programs and services - rather than spending it up in hardware.

Howard County Library is committed to using open-source software whenever and wherever possible. We like the flexibility open source offers us to alter code so that software can meet our needs. We also try to find software that is shareware or free - so that we don't invest funds into software licenses.

Question: How did the library find this Groovix product?

De Groff: Howard County Library found Groovix by researching the open-source community. There are few comparable solutions available; Groovix offers a great deal of customization and a chance to collaborate on some future services.

Question: How many computers does the library offer customers?

De Groff: Nearly 300, and we add more whenever funding permits.

Question: What did the library offer before Groovix?

De Groff: Before Sept. 21, Howard County Library offered customers two computer options - word-processing machines, running Windows NT and featuring Microsoft Office 97, and Web machines, featuring a Linux distribution written by two of our staff members, Mike Ricksecker and Luis Salazar (the distribution is called LuMix).

Question: When a customer arrives at a county library, what will they see?

De Groff: Customers will see many computers available for use. At busy times, they will see many of these computers in use - staff are available to help find an available computer. Every machine includes:

Two web browsers - Opera and Firefox.

OpenOffice - a fully functional word-processing application that is compatible with current and legacy versions of Microsoft Office.

GAIM for instant messaging.

Real Player and MPlayer for audio and video rendering.

There also is help documentation to guide users through all software, and staff ready to help.

Question: Why change what was in place?

De Groff: Howard County Library wanted to offer customers more - more functionality, more services, more access.

Question: What department manages technology for the library?

De Groff: Howard County Library has a Library Technology Services department, staffed with five full-time professionals, one part-time Web wizard and a manager. The department sits at the central location in Columbia, where the Network Operations Center (NOC) is located but travels freely between all six locations.

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