by Lauren Capotosto

Help for Library Computers

Mar 15, 20062 mins

With children clonking on keyboards, patrons downloading viruses and kleptomaniacs swiping mice, library computers quickly end up in PC morgues. “When we started offering Internet access, people would go in and change the settings and reset the computer every day,” says Nancy Ferguson, library access services manager at the Richmond Public Library in California. “People just destroyed the computers.”

That was before Richmond implemented DiscoverStation, offered by Calgary, Canada-based Userful. DiscoverStation uses one Linux desktop to power up to 10 workstations, leaving only monitors, keyboards, floppy drives and mice subject to public torture.

Since its installation last July, the multiuser solution has allowed Richmond librarians to concentrate on what they do best—helping patrons find information. Prior to installation, a librarian spent up to two hours each morning deleting files people had left on PCs. But DiscoverStation clears personal information and other modifications users have made (including browser history and cookies) with each logout. Another time-saver: Staffers no longer spend time installing firewall protection because DiscoverStation features a built-in security system.

Other features include Internet filtering (to block pornography, gambling and other sites deemed inappropriate for library use) and open-source software compatible with Microsoft Office. But for Kristin Shoemaker, reference and systems librarian at the Malden Public Library in Massachusetts, DiscoverStation’s biggest draw is its scheduling capability. The library previously used software that was so buggy that staff often resorted to pencil and paper sign-ins to manage user sessions. “People would cross out other people’s names on the grid, or were confused and put their name in the wrong places. Sometimes even fights would break out,” she says. Shoemaker purchased 14 workstations, three years of support, an optional user authentication feature and a printer for under $22,000.

“If we hadn’t had the DiscoverStations, more than likely we would have gone without,” says Shoemaker. “Gone without adequate antivirus, gone without upgrading at all, and the machines would have gone further and further downhill.”