An odd topic for me? Well, yes, given that I don’t work in a library and have never spent much time on the public-workstation theme.
But ALA Publishing sent me a copy of the April 2009 Library Technology Reports (v. 45:3), “Open Source Public Workstations in Libraries,” by John Houser–who, until recently, was Senior Technology Consultant at PALINET and handled the technology side of what’s now the Library Leadership Network.
Here’s the abstract:
In a time where an economic downturn and concerns about climate change are influencing decisions, many libraries are looking for ways to save money and to reduce their impact on the environment. This report provides detailed information about the operating systems, software, and approaches used by three libraries and one academic institution that have implemented open source public workstations. It explains how open source operating systems and applications, when installed on appropriate hardware, can decrease power utilization while providing a reliable and satisfying customer experience. It will help library decision makers who want to find out about alternatives to Microsoft Windowsâ€“based PCs running Microsoft Office, not only as a means ofÂ cutting costs or reducing a carbon footprint, but also as a means of providing a better experience for library customers.
I suspect it’s worth buying if you’re in a library that has public workstations (if your library doesn’t subscribe to LTR, you can buy the issue for $43). Houser suggests reasons for considering open source solutions for public workstations, describes current open source products that may be suited for such workstations and offers several case studies, considering two of them in detail.
In some ways, I’m a skeptical audience for this report. I question the assumption that older/underpowered computers (inappropriate for XP or Vista but fine for Linux) necessarily use less power than contemporary computers–and Houser’s clearly uneasy with that particular argument.
For that matter, while I think the concept of open source software is great–the Library Leadership Network runs on open source software (MediaWiki), my blog runs on open source software (WordPress), and my primary browser is open source software (Firefox)–I’m also a happy Vista user who has no interest in trading Office2007 for OpenOffice.
But the reasons I prefer Office2007 and Vista at home probably don’t apply to public workstations. For such workstations, a set of open-source tools should be entirely workable and indeed more than is needed–and there’s no getting around the cost savings. Let’s be honest here: If and when I buy a netbook as a travel computer, there’s a very strong chance I’ll buy a Linux system.
Houser writes clearly and knows his stuff. If there’s a major problem with this report, it’s a problem shared by other recent LTR issues: It’s on the short side, with a total of 34 text pages. On the other hand, that also makes it a quick read and easy reference. All in all, a good introduction to one interesting approach (or, really, three related interesting approaches) to providing public library workstation support.