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Public Internet Access

The Cottage Grove Public Library uses LTSP and the materials on hand to create a 10 station public Internet access project for very little money.

 Public Internet TerminalsInternet access has become a standard service in public libraries. In late 2005 the Cottage Grove Public Library's Internet access stations were in a sorry state. Most of the Windows Me based stations were unusable, the rest were virus laden, unstable, and a maintenance nightmare for the library staff who had to clean porn off of them almost daily. With the help of Lillibolero Inc. the Internet access stations were rebuilt as an LTSP system. The computers available for the system included various older machines, the former Windows Me boxes which were custom built P4 based systems with 256Meg of memory, a Dell Optiplex G100 that was found buried in the store room, and 3 more Optiplexes that were bought used from the local computer recycling center for $35 a piece. A motley array of outdated equipment that had no hope of running as stand alone machines. The machine chosen as the server was not much better, and was really only chosen by virtue of having a larger disk drive and 1Gig of memory. These machines, along with an HP Procurve switch, were assembled and Ubuntu Linux 5.10 was installed on the server. After installing the LTSP software and adding some security configuration for the public terminals, the initial set of six terminals were ready to go. The system was an immediate success, so much so that a somewhat more powerful server had to purchased, and an additional 4 terminals were added for a current total of 10.  

Public Internet Terminals Some quick facts: Between Sept 2006 and Sept 2007 there have been 27000 library patron logins on the library's public terminals, not including their wifi service. A similar system was built to run all the staff and circulation services on a separate server. Because a terminal server system is being used, the terminals can be much older hardware without having any ill effects on user experience. All the terminal is being used for is to run the monitor, keyboard and mouse. This translates into a tremendous savings in the hardware budget, reducing what they would have had to pay for stand alone machines of similar functionality by at least 50%.

Public Internet Terminal Hardware is not the whole story. There have been no security incidents, and very few hardware or software failures on either of these systems. This is in contrast to the experience of other public libraries, which use stand alone machines running a Windows system with a locking package. Maintenance and security on these systems are a constant problem. Windows does some things well, but security has never been it's strong suit. The maintenance on the LTSP system is very low because there are only 3 important servers in the system and they are kept in a physically secure room far away from the public. The terminals that the public use are little more than network appliances, easily replaceable with either dedicated terminals or older PCs that have outlived their usefullness as standalone computers. In short, the system works. The system works really well, which is why similar systems are used every day by hundreds of thousands of school children all over the world. As an example, even our local 45J school system uses it in their computer labs.

The Library's LTSP systems are a resounding success, built for pennies on left over computers and strategically placed servers. There are few if any problems, most of which come from power failures. We have no problems with incompatibilities with other operating system's data files as that has been a strong development focus in open source software for the past few years. To be fair, there are a few problems with websites that have not been written in a standards compliant manner, but rather targeted at a single proprietary web browser. These problems have mostly been resolvable in all but the most egregious instances.