When libraries across the country rolled out their Internet workstations, the truth is that we really didn't know how they would be used.
Sure, we HOPED people would see them as portals to the many databases we have purchased, full of all kinds of authoritative information.
We have topnotch commercial resources in a host of subjects: arts and culture, books and reading, business, careers, consumer advice, crafts and leisure, education, genealogy, health, history, and on and on. Lo and behold: a big percentage of our Internet traffic does indeed revolve around those resources.
But there are other uses. Email. Chat rooms. Interactive games. Online auctions and dating services. And of course, there are the tasteless, pointless, tacky and seamy websites without number.
Here's one of the ironies of Internet use. Once part and parcel of the much heralded "paperless society" (you don't hear that much any more, do you?), the World Wide Web is perhaps most notable for how much paper it generates. People love to print things.
Of course, they often print way more than they really want. People see the single paragraph that has just what they're looking for. So they hit the print key. Then, it seemed like maybe it wasn't printing, so they hit it again.
And a few minutes later, the printer diligently spat out both copies of the 80 page document surrounding that paragraph.
Many patrons, embarrassed, quietly gathered up the one page they wanted and slunk out the door.
Nonetheless, Internet workstations are popular. So popular, that some people would gladly park themselves in front of a terminal all day long. So we had to work out some time limits.
Most people follow the rules -- common sense guidelines for sharing a public resource. A few people don't. So library staff wind up serving as enforcers, wandering judges of civility.
Well, all that's about to change.
First, we're rolling out some new computers, beginning at our Highlands Ranch Library. These are Dell PC's with 18" flat screen monitors. They will all be running a browser to begin with; beginning in 2004, they will also run the full StarOffice suite, offering word processing, spreadsheets, and drawing functions.
Second, these new PC's will be governed by something called "izz-mizz" -- which is the acronym for our Internet Station Management System.
One computer will allow you to type in your library barcode and queue up for the next PC available. When your time comes, you'll sit down at the assigned machine and a 30 minute count-down begins, as attested by a very visible onscreen clock. When you've got just 5 minutes left, you'll be prompted to save your work to a disk. If no one is waiting for your machine, the time limits can be extended automatically; if someone IS waiting, the machine will log you off and wait for the next person in line.
That takes care of the courtesy enforcement -- itself a worthwhile end. But ISMS also does print job management.
When you select something to be printed, the software tells you how many pages will be printed, and what it will cost. At that point, you can back out, and whittle things down. Once you work that out, you tell it to proceed. Then you head to the network printer.
There, you pay at a coin machine (first ten pages are still free, and after that, it depends on whether you're printing black and white, or color). Only then does the print job get released.
Some of our sister libraries have reported that the savings in paper costs alone have paid for the rest of the system.
After we work out the process at Highlands Ranch, we'll be installing the system all around the county. Here's hoping that you find it useful.