Just Because You're Frustrated is no Reason to Hoard the Pieces.

Working with computers and technology in a library can be more frustrating than teaching squirrels to play backgammon. Just remember, you really can't "break" a computer — worst-case scenario: you have to erase everything on the computer and start fresh. If you do not understand something, find someone to teach you and if you can't fix it, find a computer expert who can for a fee. Pay attention to the other technology around you as there are many building systems to familiarize yourself with such as heating and plumbing. Learn how to check on your building's mechanical systems and how to shut them off in an emergency before you have to! When you have exhausted your knowledge shut off the system, wait a couple minutes, and then turn it back on — this simple procedure solves many technology problems by allowing everything to reset.

To run a library, or simply work at one, you now need to know how to use computers and how to troubleshoot recurring, simple problems. Everyone needs to know how to set up a computer and how to keep one running smoothly. Work to meet the community's needs, not to do it in a specific way, considering new technology and formats as visitors and community members ask for them. It is often best to wait until a new technology has become standardized and intuitive before implementing it in your library. Libraries need technology to gather information, improve services, provide Internet access, coordinate ILL, track materials, create and store information, communicate with patrons, and allow their patrons to communicate with the rest of the world. Technology and knowing about computers are means to the end of helping your patrons with their questions and tasks.

If you are not familiar with technology, rely on other people and learn as you go. Check out PLA's TechNotes, short web-based papers introducing public librarians to specific technologies, at Visit WebJunction, the online library tech community, at and TechSoup, the technology place for nonprofits, at Bring in a consultant, another library tech, or your local school or government tech guru to help with the computer systems. Learn everything you can from them and from working with others who have already implemented new technologies as you progress. If you experience recurring, major problems, get a new consultant or computer tech and when nothing else will work, and you can't figure it out for your life, take the problem to them so they can figure it out for you. Be willing to learn from local computer fanatics, every community has several, by talking to them and watching them play with their system or the library's; you'll learn tons. Between exploring and experimenting on computers and learning from the experts in your community, you'll become comfortable with computers in no time. Take with you the "ability to keep learning, to be comfortable trying new and difficult and sometimes threatening things, and to know that whatever we don't know we can learn," says Rachel Singer Gordon, author of The Accidental Systems Librarian.

Brief Technology Glossary

.asp = active server pages created at your request and not in existence otherwise, deep web

.cgi = common gateway interface creates pages at your request which are not in existence otherwise, deep web

.gif = graphics interchange file 256 color graphics format

.htm, .html = mark-up languages specifying not only what to show, but how to show and format it

hub = central box where cables can be connected to each other or other technology

.jpg = joint photographic group graphics format with greater color and high compression for small file sizes, standard for sending pictures over e-mail

.mp3 = digital music in a compressed form for small file sizes

.pdf = Adobe file which captures the actual page layout of published documents and needs Adobe's Acrobat Reader or similar software to view

router = central box where many cables can be connected to one or more items, i.e. an Internet connection, serves as a basic firewall and allows web or e-mail servers to run in your building

.rss = remote syndication system of computer readable pages you can sign up with a reader to automatically collect changes and updates to hundreds of .rss pages and display all the information to you in one place and one common format

servlets = small programs run on the server where the web page is hosted

TCP/IP = Microsoft's Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol used by the world wide web and many networks as well since all computers support it

.wav = standard Microsoft Windows audio format

.wma, .wmv = Windows Media audio and video files for playback with Windows Media Player

.xml = mark-up language with both computer and user information, allows for creation of .rss pages automatically

Your Building

Okay, up off your chair; this is going to be good for your health too. Where is your building's circuit breaker or breakers? When the power goes out to an area or item in your library, always check to see if it is plugged in, the power strip is on and plugged in, and the circuit breaker hasn't tripped off. All of the breakers should be all the way to one side in the panel and if one isn't, push it all the way off and then back to the on position.

Where is your building's main water shut off and the individual ones for each sink, toilet, and drinking fountain? Either a hand valve will be underneath or behind the fixture or there will be a metal button cap or hex nut cover hiding a screw head where the plumbing stops after coming straight out of the wall — turn the valve clockwise, to the right, until it stops turning to shut off the water. When a sink or toilet is overflowing this knowledge is invaluable and you can calmly turn the handle or pull out a screwdriver to shut off the water.

One more run to keep your heart rate up for maximum health benefits and find where your furnace and air conditioning units are. How do you turn them off and how do they signal problems or the need for repairs? Have a qualified service person visit the library yearly for maintenance on these overworked systems, talking with them during the servicing to find out what you can do to monitor and maintain the system between check ups. If you have input, choose the simplest controls and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) interface possible.

Avoid watering and sprinkling when doing the building landscaping since irrigation systems waste water and cause constant problems. Be sure any exterior taps are capable of withstanding your winter conditions then detach all hoses, y-connectors, and moveable sprinklers before winter hits. Watch for plantings of spreading or invasive species and work to remove or contain them. Properly designed from the start, library landscaping looks great and requires little work on your part or relandscaping can save the library money and provide a fresh exterior feel.

Overall, keep an eye and ear out for signs of wear and tear or unusual noises as these are often symptoms of impending failure. Engage in regular building maintenance: power wash your sidewalks to remove stains and gum, sand and refinish scratched or chipped wood, fill and paint holes in walls and clean spills and stains on carpets. Keep your building looking like new and everyone will take greater pride in it; a little regular maintenance makes everything last longer. Do not skimp on building maintenance either, such as repainting and reshingling, to keep your library enjoyable and functional for decades.


Have both regular and Phillips screwdrivers handy at the circulation desk, in the staff area, and in your office since you never know when you'll need to open up a computer for replacing a card or have to shut off the water to a urinal. Also have a basic toolbox at the library for small repairs and creations including duct tape, masking tape, measuring tapes, pliers, Allen wrenches, socket wrenches, hammers and nails, razor blade scrapers, a monkey wrench for pipes, a hacksaw, level, and cordless drill. Your library likely needs a large step ladder and an extension ladder too.

Lighting and Space

Check the lighting and feel when entering your building to be sure it is inviting and warm. Make sure all areas of the library are well lit so it is easy to see spine labels and to read books or magazines. With printed material, the contrast increases as the surrounding light does so more light means more contrast between the background and the text. With computer and TV screens the opposite is true since screens have a constant contrast which is greatest with absolutely no surrounding light; work to reach a balance in areas with staff or patron computers.

Weigh the space lost to increasing your collection size over the use any increase is likely to receive. If your primary mission is serving the public, in any respect, prioritize space for the public as several tables for gathering and working far outweigh a couple thousand books unlikely to be used more than once every few years. Leave plenty of space for tables, chairs, lounging, homework, and research and be rewarded with more usage and more pleasant stays by patrons of all ages.

Staff Work Areas

Keep reference, circulation, or other desks low enough so staff can sit comfortably while working on various projects between helping patrons. Make service counters low enough for wheelchair bound patrons and children to approach them comfortably. Remind staff to smile, make eye contact, and stand up or say hello whenever a patron approaches them.

In the staff area, create areas for unpacking new shipments, cataloging the materials, and processing them along with areas for materials needing repairs, materials needing replacements ordered, new purchases, and new donations; the area for unpacking doubles as shipping by keeping boxes, tape, and envelopes handy. Cataloging, and often processing, requires computers, labels, and printers at hand and would benefit from a small rack to hold any address or other stamps you use. Staff processing materials need a clear line of site to any service desks so they may provide help should a line form. Areas are necessary for interlibrary loans and materials waiting for patron pick up which should be alphabetized by the patron's last name. Each area should be separate and distinct from all others so staff do not have to ask each other what a pile of books is waiting for.


Whoever handles the cleaning of your library needs to clean your shelves too. "Dust removal with a vacuum or dry cloth should be the first step. No shelves should be washed with anything other than warm water if they are metal, and a clean clolth if they are wood. Also be sure the cleaning crew understands the importance of keeping dust and strong chemicals away from books and the other library materials. In addition, when tables and counters are polished with an oil-based liquid, the polish must be rubbed in thoroughly or the library materials used the next day will soak up the polish."1


"A rule of thumb: purchase no new equipment without first assessing its impact on the building systems"2 and determining the total cost of ownership, i.e. toner and drums for a laser printer. Every public library must have a photocopier, fax machine, printers, and computers while other desirable equipment includes a color laser printer, scanner, computer projector, TV, laminator, document binder, long reach stapler, heavy-duty stapler, digital camera, photo printer, and sound system. Make sure any equipment you get can handle the amount of work your library staff and patrons will be asking of it — small office or heavy duty equipment does the trick while items for home office or personal use will be hard pressed. Look into purchasing inexpensive thermal-transfer label printers and configuring your automation system to directly print correct, typo-free spine labels to it as each item is entered into the automation system. Many pieces of equipment from other disciplines are useful in public libraries like DJ supplies for kid and teen events, players and recorders for different media types, die cut systems for making bulletin board decorations, scientific lab supplies, and book and video store equipment. Public libraries can even put together digital photo or video studios for the whole community to use. Regularly clean and follow any recommended maintenance for all of your equipment.

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology in the small public library can "range from small, inexpensive low-vision aids like magnifying lenses to closed-circuit TVs that enlarge print, personalized readers, TDDs (telecommunication devices for the deaf), a motorized wheelchair for use in the library, and computers controlled by voice or voice software that makes print materials audible."3 To create an assistive technology workstation combine a current computer with the largest monitor you can afford (at least 21 inches), a scanner to convert print to text, a trackball in addition to the normal mouse, and a keyboard with big keys, large letter labels, and Braille. Programs to run on the workstation might include JAWS, ZoomText, Pronto, BigKeys, and Personal Mouse. Have a flashlight and book pillow handy to help people find materials in the stacks and comfortably browse through books while in your library. Purchase a round 4X stand magnifier and a 5X or greater white LED lit stand magnifier either of which can be placed on the page. Recommend a 60 watt bulb positioned near reading material to help your patrons with vision difficulties; it works the best to make reading easier. Equip your facility with power assist or automatic doors and drive-up book returns. Refer individuals to the services available from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, — know these services are available to a wider number and type of people than you might think and many folks can have audio books mailed directly to their house along with prepaid return envelopes. For more on assistive technology in libraries see the Colorado Department of Education site at

Book Repair

Keep your beloved books, audios, and videos circulating as long as you can. Purchase polyvinyl acetate or other non-animal based glue for putting books back together using knitting needles to get it down the edges when the book's text block is separating from the cover. For those sticky children's classics, purchase book cleaner from any library vendor and have some volunteers go at it. Find a source for see-through page mending tape or simply use invisible Scotch tape to fix torn pages since small public libraries aren't conservatories — save preservation quality repairs for your local history and special collections or get another copy of the item if you can then quickly repair the damaged copy and let it circulate while the pristine copy is kept in the library for posterity and reference.

Disc Repair

Fixing CD's and DVD's is as easy as washing dishes. Just squirt on some hand soap, get a sudsy film on your fingers, and then gently wipe on the wetted bottom of the disc. Once the disc is clean, rinse it off and carefully dry it with a clean dishcloth starting from the hub and wiping out to the edge because scratches in this direction are much less catastrophic than those running with the circular tracks of the disc. Purchase a cheap disc repair machine or look into using a nicer one owned by a larger library nearby for those disc not helped by the dishpan process. If you're having issues burning CDs, try lowering the speed your drive is writing at; while the drive may support 40X writing, your computer may not be able to keep the data flowing as fast.

Tape Repair

Buy a cheap audio splicing kit and a cheap video splicing kit to repair cassette tapes and VHS tapes; kits are available from library suppliers and video store suppliers. For all the materials you can save, the cost is minimal and you only need to cut out the bad tape section then tape the good ends of the tape back together with the supplied adhesive tabs making sure you put the tab on the inside of the audio or videotape. Wind the tape back up and it will be fine with a hardly noticeable gap. At times you will need to take the entire cassette apart to get access to the damaged tape or to reconnect the tape to the hub — in these cases, remove the screws holding the cassette together and notice where things are as you pull the two halves apart then, once fixed, put it back the way you found it not worrying about an extra small piece or two left over; if there are no screws, use a knife blade or screwdriver blade to pry the cassette open and superglue to hold it back together once fixed, being careful not to superglue the case to the tape or to yourself.

Cutting Edge Technology

Training is now a constant and we will always be learning new skills and adjusting old habits. We must strive for a seamless merger between asking a question and finding the answer with no extra steps to determine what database to look in or need to wander around the library trying to find a misshelved item. Librarians will then be allowed to focus on bringing the best materials into the community, providing reading suggestions, helping with technology, creating amazing programs, answering questions, and facilitating one of the last community gathering spots. As technology continues to decrease in cost, be on the lookout for radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, computerized calling of overdues and reserves, and automated cataloging from publicly available or paid for MARC records. Eventually, when the item comes into the library you will only have to find the matching record and assign a call number then when someone later goes to check it out, they will pick it up and walk out of the building, their RFID library card telling the system who is checking out and the RFID tag in the book telling the system what is checking out to them. Also be aware of the interconnection of PDA's, cellphones, and MP3 players with the Internet and look for ways to reach them with your catalog and web information. Check out and see great services at and

The new generations using our libraries see community and sharing as more important than privacy and grew up without a concept of intellectual property therefore not understanding copyright or plagiarism; they demand an immediacy of experience and expect 3D video games and game boxes everywhere. More futuristic technologies may include refrigerator-sized print on demand appliances with large databases of books allowing for variable print size, instant reproduction, text to voice instantaneous audio books, and more. Public libraries with print on demand appliances could create one off books for patrons looking into esoteric information or needing larger print to read easily, allow access to all books even in small public libraries, and reproduce any book for a patron to purchase and keep.

Computer Hardware

"We have everyone from elementary kids to retirees. Our computers are used for email, homework, registering for college, job research, travel research, making online purchases, chatting, and more….There is definitely demand for more, newer, and faster computers." - Kathy Crouch, Madison County Public Library4

"Internet has truly allowed even the most remote, small public library to span the globe. Internet access has done more to equalize resources to the disadvantaged than any other service we provide." - Vicki Logsdon, Director, Hart County Public Library5

Computers come from many different manufacturers, but the manufacturer only matters when considering after sale support since modern tower computers are made with interchangeable parts so any hard drive or Ethernet card can be used in any computer. Buy from anyone that can be counted on to replace any damaged or missing parts when the computer arrives avoiding long-term service agreements as your local computer tech can provide much better support and quicker service than any large, distant company. Purchase a USB drive, flash drive or hard drive, to back up your data and staff files; save new and modified files nightly while monthly deleting everything off the drive and saving your data and files anew. The most efficient way to upgrade library computers is through adding RAM memory allowing the computer to run faster and handle more complex programs. All information on RAM can be accessed quickly, whether it is at the beginning or end of the chip while having to access information from the hard drive or the Internet takes much longer. Find the RAM and its type and speed for each computer so you can add more later, asking someone more knowledgeable if you need help. RAM is normally on the right side of the main board toward the case's front and of either SDRAM or DDRAM type which are not compatible with each other.

++++ Recommended Public Computer Hardware

* Ethernet port or wireless card (WiFi) for networking
* children's games may need a video card supporting 3D graphics
* CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, or CD-R/RW driver which allows saving large files by burning them to inexpensive CDs
* 3 1/2" floppy drive
* USB port in front
* audio connector for headphones in front
* no monitor speakers
* any computer being produced today comes with a fast enough CPU (in GHz)
* plenty of RAM, currently 256 MB minimum although more is always better
* 20 GB hard drive can hold all basic programs along with an entire encyclopedia


Use Ethernet, wireless, or a combination for your local network; learn more about LANs (Local Area Networks) from WebJunction at Wireless networks allow travelers to stay in touch with their laptops wherever they go and let libraries place computers where they are needed regardless of hard wired Ethernet connections. Adding wireless to an existing Ethernet network is as simple as plugging in a wireless base station, a.k.a. access point, to an open Ethernet port. Wireless access points have a range of from 100 to 500 feet, fast speeds, and no more data loss than wired networks. Have a knowledgeable computer tech configure your wireless access point and explain various settings and possible problems, i.e. you may need to turn off the access point when the library closes if its range reaches outside of your building. Libraries with limited space can check wireless laptops out for in-library use at tables while keeping the tables usable for card games, homework, puzzles and more when the laptops are not in use. Staff can take a laptop into the stacks for inventory, to answer questions, or to modify item records and you might even be able to work outside on a gorgeous day. "In situations where concrete walls or historic structures are involved, wireless communication technologies provide the best solution to network connectivity….The deployment of wireless networks not only allows increased access to library resources, but can provide greater flexibility in computer network management as well."6 Additional wireless information is at WebJunction,

Your entire network will connect to the Internet through either your server or through a router. There are now many ways to obtain broadband: DSL, cable modems, fiber-optic lines, satellites, and wireless towers — look around and find the best deal at the fastest possible speed asking local companies to donate Internet access in return for some advertising at the library. Sharing services with local government or schools allows a small public library to access faster pipelines than they can alone and also gives access and help from other technical services personnel. In general it does not matter what your network is called or what type it is; whomever you contract with will know and you only need to know what to do when your network goes down. Troubleshooting network problems is often simply turning off the routers, modems, and hubs and then turning them back on, a.k.a. rebooting them. Any equipment, such as a printer, attached to a computer and any information stored on a computer can be shared with all other computers in the network — find the folder or printer you want to share, right click on it, select Sharing, and then click Share As. Some printers have their own Ethernet card and can share on the network without a computer helping. Either way, network your laser printers so any computer in the library can print to them. Purchase printers based on reliability and toner cost knowing Hewlett Packard leads the pack in the reliability realm and has comparably priced toner. Do not purchase inkjet printers since you must continually pay for and replace $20 and up cartridges even though the printer costs next to nothing initially. A scanner is also needed so patrons can convert their photos and documents to computer files, either for preservation or for sharing through e-mail, with the primary purchase concern being how easy the scanner and accompanying software is for library use. Library preservation, aimed at saving documents for hundreds of years, still needs to be through microfilming since digital files suffer from degradation, corruption, and obsolescence while microfilm soldiers on. Place stands next to the computers with quick reference help sheets, information, job-hunting sites, free email options, and other information. Stands exist to hold a dozen separate pages in plastic sheets. Let people know they can take the sheets with them. Refill them as needed.


Rubbing alcohol and Q-tips will fix half of the problems with your mice. If your mouse is jerky or does not respond when you move it in a certain direction, turn it over and twist the plastic ring to release the ball then get an alcohol soaked Q-tip inside the mouse and work it on the two rotating rods and the small rotating wheel inside until all the gunked up grime and hardened dirt is off them. You might want to take a cloth to the mouse pad and the ball itself to get rid of the rest of the build up before reassembling the dry mouse. Keep the balls from any mice that have died since you never know when some patron may decide to liberate your mouse balls. Get a small computer vacuum, not a blower, to go over your keyboards and the back of the computer itself to pull out all of the junk and dust collected in them. Wipe the keyboard down with alcohol to get the collected finger dirt off and wipe off the screens on a regular basis. "Although CRTs look like household television sets, they are specially constructed units. Therefore, the use of glass-cleaning chemicals may generate more dustruction than they prevent. Care and cleaning instructions usually arrive with a unit and these should be provided to the cleaning crew."7 You can cheat and use plain old glass cleaner on the CRTs and the glass plates atop scanners and copiers, but if you have flat screen monitors I suggest actually following their recommendations on cleaning and using a special wipe or spray. Every few months go to Start, Programs, Accessories, then System Utilities and run Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter to keep your computers running at top efficiency; Windows XP also has a registry restore wizard you will want to run and get to know. You are now a computer maintenance force!


Your card catalog, or more correctly library automation system, should allow patrons to place their own holds or reserves, renew the items they have out, and request ILL's within your limits and policies. It needs to be easy for patrons to make suggestions and requests and, through a password-protected account, patrons should be able to see their entire circulation history along with any fines. The main screen needs a single search box defaulting to keyword with either a pull down menu or check buttons to change to author, subject, title, series, publisher, or most recent additions. Another nearby menu or check button array allows patrons to limit their search to different media, i.e. CD audiobooks or VHS videos. From within these searches the patron may connect to appropriate web pages or encyclopedia and dictionary entries and once a search is run patrons must be able to sort it by a variety of means or to browse nearby books as if they were looking in the stacks and see everything by that author or on that subject. Reports for statistics, weeding, and overdues should be simple to run and review. Link the library automation system to send overdues by e-mail, postcard, or automated phone calls without taking up valuable staff time; contact patrons when fines start counting and every two weeks after then bill them for any items overdue after four to six months so you can go ahead and replace needed materials. Link the automation system to a web sign up page so patrons may automatically receive notification of new releases by favorite authors or new purchases in a favorite subject area; similar web sign ups can be used for patrons to sign up for programs, including summer reading, and to receive notification of specific library programs, i.e. author visits or live music.

The automation system or its reports should notify you collection areas being heavily used so the library can consider expanding these holdings. The inventory process allows reading of barcodes in the stacks and flags out of place or missing books instantly with a laptop and wireless connection. Don't panic if most automation systems in libraries today cannot do all of this! It is the ideal to strive towards so keep bugging your vendor reps. More information on automating libraries can be found at LibraryHQ's Automation Resources page,, or in the article Automating Small Libraries by James Swan which is a step-by-step guide to automating rural libraries available online at

Recommended Public Computer Software

* web browser (I recommend Mozilla's Firefox at and making it your default)
* Flash and Shockwave plug ins for browser (
* QuickTime plug in for browser (
* Windows Media Player ( or Real One Player (
* Adobe Acrobat Reader for .pdf files (
* current encyclopedia program
* typing tutorial
* basic spreadsheet
* good word processing program
* presentation program (Microsoft PowerPoint is used by most school students)
* link shortcuts to your card catalog, home page, an Internet search page, and any Internet resource pages
* optional filter, timing/PC control, print management, database desktop publishing, and image modification software
* lock down program (operating system settings by logging patrons on as limited users or guests, Centurion Guard at, or DeepFreeze at

"Firefox is an open-source program - noncopyrighted and free from - created by a nonprofit foundation descended from Microsoft's old rival, Netscape. The browser doesn't look much different from IE, but it has many operational improvements - the most noticeable being better built-in protection against pop-up ads, and a tabbed browsing system that lets you easily keep several Web pages open at once."8 Switching library computers to Firefox has eliminated the need to run spyware and adware detection and removal tools. If your patrons will not switch voluntarily, change the program associated with the familiar blue "e" icon so double clicking on it starts Mozilla's Firefox.

Many popular software programs and packages are available to public libraries at extreme discounts through TechSoup Stock's donation program at, i.e. $8 per license for Windows XP Professional. For people with visual and other disabilities, have all of your computers able to be easily configured for access and look into having one or more with JAWS or other text to voice software running as well as having a large screen with large fonts for you public card catalog computers one of which is low enough for children and those in wheelchairs to access. For children's computers, include educational and entertaining software such as Barney, Magic School Bus, Arthur, Living Books, Barbie, Pixar (Monsters Inc., Nemo, etc.), Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, I Spy, or Zoombinis. Several great individual programs are Garfield's Typing Pal, Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster, and Extremely Goofy Skateboarding. You will probably be asked for shooting games and simulations as well so decide you are comfortable providing and what the children of your community would enjoy. Remember Alt-F4 is the universal "exit program" command since you may need to use it with older programs or ones you are unfamiliar with. For older games requiring 256 colors to run, go to Display in the Control Panel menu and select Show Settings Icon on Taskbar under the Advanced tab to enable easy switching between settings.

There are many features of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system capable of annoying or bothering users. To kill the search dog animation hit F3 to start a search then click on Change Preferences at the search window's bottom left followed by selecting Without an Animated Screen Character. To kill the reoccurring requests to sign into .NET simply go to Start and type in regedit after selecting Run — find HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Run and delete MSMSGS from the commands contained there. If the program boxes at the screen's bottom collecting together into one button you have to click and then select from a menu bothers you, right click on an empty space along the screen's bottom, find Properties, and remove the check in front of Group Similar Taskbar Buttons. To quickly alphabetize your ever growing collection of favorite links, while your browser is open right click in your favorites list and select Sort by Name.


The minimum security required for a small public library network is a software firewall and an anti-virus program updated daily. For a one-time cost of $29.95 you can purchase eTrust's EZ Antivirus software and receive unlimited updates to the virus detection files from; you can also look into AVG antivirus at Windows XP Professional operating system has a built in software firewall which should be turned on for all of your computers by right clicking My Network Places, choosing Properties, highlighting your connection, clicking Change Settings, selecting the Advanced tab, and checking Protect My Computer and Network by Limiting or Preventing Access to this Computer from the Internet. You also need to install programs to find and remove adware and spyware, software programs placed on your computer by web sites to bug you and track your online activity. Free programs are available for download from Lavasoft at and from Spybot at Set up each program to daily download updates while the library is closed then scan your entire computer every week and remove or fix any problems. If you place your server on the public Internet, you will also want a hardware firewall and someone capable of daily monitoring the server logs for unauthorized activity; learn more about firewalls from WebJunction at Work with your technology consultant to correctly install and set up these important safeguards. A great introduction to all the vagaries of computer and network security can be found at the Infopeople Project,, and from WebJunction,

Training Staff

"Try to think of creative ways of getting people to use technology more effectively and efficiently in your own environment."9 You must gain staff support for any new technology added at your library, even software programs as your staff will be called upon to guide patrons through using the new hardware and software, explaining changes and answering questions. Find solutions easy for your staff to operate and not requiring huge leaps to master or arrange for visits to area libraries doing spectacular jobs with technology for inspiring staff led changes. Always consult with, and if possible visit, a library already using the software or technology of interest before going ahead with any changes. The Internet can answer questions you never even thought to ask so improve everyone's searching skills through online tutorials, classes at larger libraries, and practice. The more you search and look on the Internet, the better you become at searching it even if it means burning through three or four searches to determine the correct wording and language to use in your search. If you see no promising results on the first page of search returns, go back and try synonyms or an entirely different search term. Take advantage of any subscription databases available in your state or region as a handful of wide ranging databases can contain millions of articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers. Unless you have huge demand locally for online databases, do not bother purchasing any for your individual library, but know what databases are available to you and the types of magazines and information they contain. One general full text database lets you recycle any magazine issues older than a year, well except for Consumer Reports which is referred to back three to five years.

"Professional Competencies

* Customer service
* Assessment
* Knowledge of information sources
* Resource management
* Technical skills
* Advocacy
* Collaboration
* Administration
* Personal competencies
* Education
* Service commitment
* Flexibility
* Leadership
* Ethics
* Communication
* Self-motivation

(For a full explanation of all bullets, go to: <>.)"10

Join public library listservs or mailing lists whether a state one or the all access PubLib at Train yourself first and then the Board and all staff on what e-mail, chat, MUD's, instant messaging, ftp, telnet, and more are and how to recognize them. Knowing what they are and how they work will allow you to make much more informed decisions on what to limit. Filtering, for instance, attempts to find and prohibit access to a wide variety of sites while CIPA requires libraries receiving E-rate discounts for computers and Internet access to filter only child pornography, obscenity, and (when minors are using the Internet) material harmful to minors. Many filtering technologies also try to block access to sites promoting hate and violence, online gambling, or sites differing in ideology from the programmers so ask what any filtering currently in use or considered is attempting to block. No matter what, no filter will be 100% effective as sites constantly change and appear on the Internet without any control or reporting in place. P.S. You can be sued for filtering or for not filtering so if a suit is ever brought against the library, talk to a lawyer first. Information on creating technology plans, another E-rate requirement, including online samples can be found at from the State Library of Ohio and from Integrated Library System Reports. Technology plans are only required if you will be receiving Internet access or internal connections and must include five sections: goals, professional development, needs assessment, budget, and evaluation. E-rate applications may be made online at

Computers can be used to handle a variety of library tasks with software existing for cataloging, circulation, integrated library systems, word processing, database management, financial management, graphics, communication, project management, research, statistical analysis, and more. Find the software that works best for you or that is available already and get to know the basics of using it. The more familiar you are with a particular program, the more you can use it to your advantage; it is better to be extremely familiar and comfortable with a simple program than to have the fanciest programs and no idea how to use them. Use spreadsheets to track statistics, your budget, hours, and orders. Desktop publishing programs allow professional looking flyers and brochures in little time and at no cost, especially with a good color printer for maximum effect! Manage technology throughout the library to make the most efficient use of the library's resources, using technology as a tool to improve existing services and at times to offer new ones.

Explore, experiment, and most of all use computers on a daily basis. I know you don't want to be sitting behind the computer all day, so do 15 minutes and take a break or work on the computer for half an hour then shelve for a while. No matter what you do, work on the computer as it's the only way to get better and to learn more about computers. It doesn't matter how much you know, it's still true and you need to practice constantly to keep up with changing programs and computers. It would be nicer if they included an option to make everything appear and function the way it used to, but they don't since the programs are big enough and complicated enough that just getting them to work takes all of the programmers' time. At times you may choose to stop progressing and stick with an older, more functional version of a program, but continue to be familiar with what the patrons are using, especially programs from Microsoft — most people entering your library will be using Microsoft at home and work, often the latest version, so you and your staff all need to be able to help them with the latest version of Word and answer questions about how to set up an Excel spreadsheet. Spend some time working with PowerPoint and Publisher, even FrontPage as these are what people commonly have — if your library doesn't have a demanded Microsoft program you can ask Bill Gates to donate software licenses to your library or get them cheap on TechSoup. You can have any software you like on your computers, but the demand and the standard is Microsoft; thank Bill Gates.

Staff Competencies (skills all staff should possess)

* Library Automation System: log on and off, navigate menus, access help, check materials in and out, place reserves or holds on materials, enter a temporary item, enter new patrons, update patron or item information, check automation system web page or bulletin board, and read automation system messages
* Email: retrieve, send to one or multiple recipients, address book, create mailing lists, reply, forward, set up signature, and modify settings
* Internet: exact address, search engine, search with phrases (quotes), bookmarks, organize bookmarks, recent site listing, find words in pages, and select and copy text to print
* Windows: taskbar (printer icon, desktop icon, open window icons), maneuver windows, starting programs and opening files (desktop, Start menu, browse, My Computer, My Documents), find programs and files, managing folders and files, deleting files, print (preview, settings, landscape, selection, color), and task manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del) to close stubborn unresponsive programs
* Microsoft Word: save, save in older versions and different formats, page setup, copy, cut, paste, replace words, headers and footers (under view for some reason), inserting special characters (page break, page numbers, date, footnote, pictures), format font, and tables
* Microsoft Excel: data (enter, format, fill), formulas, insert rows and columns, print area, and chart wizard
* Microsoft PowerPoint: create presentation, templates, modifying slide layouts, customizing slides, animation, sound effects, links, pictures, tables and charts, and slide presentations

See the sample surveys available in Appendix B of The Practical Library Manager.11

Training Patrons

Your web site should prominently includes library locations, hours of operation, contact info, events, card catalog, and online links to databases. While it is great to collect links and put pages of them on your library's web page, it is extremely inefficient so look for other libraries with the staff and time to collect and keep updated pages of links then link to these pages from your site. Create pages for local links if no other organization or government in your area has collected them placing obvious links on your main home page for common searches and for using the Internet; linking to your audio or video holdings in the catalog, a comprehensive search engine, general government information, and local employment leads.

Make web access easy for those unfamiliar with computers and the web by getting them interested and comfortable first providing one-on-one tutorials to start them off and then formal classes once they are comfortable. Hold a themed drop-in session every other week with a coordinated library display and a guest speaker on such topics as travel, genealogy, news, health, stock quotes, and more allowing people to keep their computer skills current and learn new ones — have a coffee and tea break as well as plenty of time to socialize with the others attending. Ask your patrons for their email addresses then use this information to create a listserv or mailing list of your own, but only send e-mails with the addresses in the BCC (blind carbon copy) so others cannot spam your patrons. Provide your community the opportunity to respond by placing the library's main email prominently on all of your web pages and consider creating a web log, a.k.a. blog, for your community or your library. Anyone can set up a blog at then a link from your library's home page to the blog will allow everyone to find it.

Visit the National Center for Technology Planning at for ideas on promoting technology and getting more users involved. Consider inviting vendor representatives to demonstrate products and hold special hands-on computer days for seniors, teachers, or parents providing childcare for these special programs. Have your patrons evaluate potential new technologies and each new piece of software selecting several regular after school visitors to install and explore new software and then write up brief introductions, instructions, or reviews to share with everyone else.


Quickly read through the manual of each piece of equipment, especially all printers and copiers while opening them up to make sure you know where paper may jam and how to release it — move all the levers, knobs, and doors to get a feel for each one taking out and reinserting the toner or ink so when it runs out you'll be experienced at replacement. Learn what error lights, abbreviations, and symbols for your equipment actually mean; many older pieces of equipment simply flash a light in an attempt to communicate distress so be ready and able to translate. Store all of the manuals together in a safe and convenient place, preferably with their installation discs too. Know how to restore library settings on public computers whether by rebooting with DeepFreeze or Centurion Guard, restoring an image or ghost of the drive, or reformatting the hard drive and reloading your operating system and all programs.

When troubleshooting equipment problems try the following steps:

1. Check to make sure it is plugged in.
2. Check the power strip making sure it is plugged in and turned on.
3. Be sure the equipment is turned on.
4. Make sure there is paper, and be sure paper is properly inserted, in any printer or copier you are trying to use and also ensure ink or toner is installed correctly and not empty.
5. Read any displays or error messages, write them down, and attempt to decipher them by searching in help or online.
6. If a program will not close try Alt-F4, the exit program shortcut, or Ctrl-Alt-Del to forcefully end the program.
7. If a file won't open by double clicking on it open the application first, such as Word, and then open the file from within the application.
8. If a web site will not open try stopping the site and going to it again or typing ping or tracert followed by the site at a command prompt to see if the site is up and where you may be betting blocked or bogged down in the various servers between you and your destination.
9. If a printer starts spewing out unrecognizable garbage turn off the printer, delete the current print job, unplug all the cables from the back of the printer, count to ten, and then plug the cables back in and restart the printer.

If basic troubleshooting attempts make no improvement turn off the computer or unplug peripherals from their power source and attached computer, count to ten, plug everything back in, and turn it on. Many times just taking things apart, cleaning them, and putting them back together will fix the problem so feel free to give it a try. Opening up a computer, cleaning out all the dust and junk, removing and reseating network or other cards, and double-checking all the connections inside and out can often clear up a nasty problem. Following these steps will solve 90% of your troubles. Whatever you do, don't spend hours attempting to fix something an expert can handle in minutes — set a time limit for your troubleshooting, say an hour, then call for help.

Create a tool belt or bag with a mouse, screwdrivers, Ethernet card, Ethernet cables, USB cable, power cable, and parallel and USB printer cables. An operating system CD-ROM is a necessity both for replacing corrupted files and for finding newly needed ones. Maintain a collection of configuration backups and driver file disks along with a scale drawing of your library with all Ethernet ports and hubs clearly located. Keep track of the problems you encounter and what was done to solve them possibly with a separate log for each piece of technology. Train after school regulars and all staff to handle basic troubleshooting skills then give them a special card or nametag to identify them. Simulate a frozen program by unplugging the mouse and then have staff and volunteers end the program by hitting Ctrl-Alt-Del, going into Task Manager, selecting the unresponsive program, and forcing it to end. Show them how to set up a computer, plugging in all the cables and powering everything up and how to open up a computer, cleaning out the dust bunnies, and checking all the card and cable connections inside too. Cover basic maintenance from cleaning mice to checking for and fixing viruses, adware, spyware, and hard drive fragmentation. Ensure your operating systems are receiving and installing the continual stream up security fixes and updates coming from Microsoft through

Be there for people to answer their questions and guide them through sticky spots. The majority of troubles develop when users run out of ideas while trying to fix problems themselves making unique and innovative, but ultimately counterproductive, changes. Talk with users regularly and ask if everything is going okay. When errors occur determine exactly what the person was doing before attempting any solutions by talking with them, reading any error messages, and trying any proposed fixes. Try the same sequence or task on another library computer to see if it is a general problem or specific to one machine. Check for necessary system files on the troubled computer and replace any missing ones as patrons may accidently, or purposefully through following a malicious email, have deleted important operating files. When experiencing network connectivity problems, replace the cable from the port to the computer first using a cable you know to be good, either from it working on another computer or by using a continuity tester. If this does not fix it, the problem is not at the workstation end so head back to any hub or router between it and the rest of the network. Unplug half of the cables to the hub and if this allows the system to work, you then know the problem lies in the unplugged half — if it's still not working, reverse the plugged and unplugged cables to make sure it will work! Take the unplugged cables once the system is working and plug half of them back in at a time until everything goes down again and repeating this with the cables plugged in last until you can determine and replace the defective cable.

Watch the hard drive usage of all of your computers and if it hits 85% remove any unused programs and delete any unneeded files especially old logs and backups. Regular maintenance through using Disk Defragmenter, Disk Cleanup, and other utilities will keep your computers running at their best. WebJunction, surprise!, has more great information on troubleshooting at Highlight technology benefits in your annual reports talking about what the technology does directly and what it enables. Many people will be served and lives bettered with a well functioning library system. "A library seems like a building, but it is actually a process, and a main feature of that process is that the library's staff is there to help…and to the patron everyone who works in a library is a librarian."12


1. Ruth Fraley, "The Physical Plant," The How-to-do-it Manual for Small Libraries (New York: Neal-Shuman, 1988): 96.
2. Ruth Fraley, "The Physical Plant," The How-to-do-it Manual for Small Libraries (New York: Neal-Shuman, 1988): 98.
3. Christine Lind Hage, The Public Library Start-Up Guide (Chicago: American Library Association, 2004): 142.
4. Kentucky Libraries: Lining Up to Get Online, Techlines: Commonwealth of Kentucky Technology News, January 7, 2004, available at Accessed 1 October 2004.
5. Ibid.
6. T. J. Lusher, "The Technologically Agile Library," Creating the Agile Library: A Management Guide for Librarians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998): 49.
7. Ruth Fraley, "The Physical Plant," The How-to-do-it Manual for Small Libraries (New York: Neal-Shuman, 1988): 96.
8. James Fallows, "Tinker With Your Computer, and Reap the Rewards," New York Times, October 3, 2004, available at Accessed 3 October, 2004.
9. Rachel Singer Gordon, The Accidental Systems Librarian (Medford, N. J.: Information Today, 2003): 15.
10. Bruce E. Massis, The Practical Library Manager (New York: Haworth Press, 2003): 23.
11. Bruce E. Massis, The Practical Library Manager (New York: Haworth Press, 2003): 123-130.
12. Andy Barnett, Libraries, Community, and Technology (Jefferson, N. C.: McFarland, 2002): 88.


* Gordon, Rachel Singer. The Accidental Systems Librarian. Medford, N.J.: Information Today, 2003. Updates available online at
* Jurewicz, Lynn and Todd Cutler. High Tech, High Touch: Library Customer Service through Technology. Chicago: American Library Association, 2003.
* Massis, Bruce E. The Practical Library Manager. New York: Haworth Press, 2003.

© Edward J. Elsner, 2005

Edward Elsner Library Consulting

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