Education

The Rossville Public Library is the state’s first guinea pig — and proud of it — to test the use of new state-of-the-art computers in place of traditional Windows PCs to provide internet access for its patrons.

Thanks to a Georgia Public Library Service grant, 20 new Samsung Chromeboxes were installed at the Rossville library, replacing badly outdated desktop computers that library goers have long been familiar with.

“We launched the pilot program Friday (Aug. 16),” Cherokee Regional Library System director Lecia Eubanks said.

The new devices represent not just new computers but a whole new way of computing and, so far, have been a big hit with the public.

“All 20 Chromeboxes were in use the majority of the (first) day,” Eubanks said.

Though traditionally associated with books, most local libraries now provide as many digital services as print services. A national survey recently published by the Institute of Museum and Library Services found that 45 percent of all library-goers accessed internet during their visit.

“Part of the mission of the State Library is to help libraries provide their patrons access to online information,” said Emily Almond, the State Library’s director of information technology. “Our hope is that the flexibility and price point of the Chromeboxes (can) help us increase the public computing footprint and help the library meet the demand for internet access.”

It is public libraries that provide individuals without home computers the ability to hunt for jobs, research school projects and complete federal and state aid program registrations.

Eubanks said she has long known that local libraries need to provide more computer access and has been devastated to see this critical service cut more and more due to a lack of funding.

As operating costs have risen, Eubanks has been forced to cut library hours — not once but twice in the past two years — which has reduced public access to online services.

Furthermore, Eubanks last year made the difficult decision to suspend the library system’s technical services department — already struggling to keep outdated and overworked computers working — as a cost-cutting measure. Without that life support system, those computers have been dying off, one by one, which shrinks patron access even further.

That is why, when she saw an offer for a library to try a new type of computer setup for its patrons, Eubanks jumped at the chance.

Luckily, the local library was charged nothing for the Chromeboxes or their installation at the Rossville branch. In exchange for the new computers, the Georgia Public Library Service is hoping to gather information on how successfully patrons adapt to a new method of computing, information which will help determine how best to bring this technology to a broader audience.

Chromeboxes differ from traditional personal computers in using cloud computing, which uses memory and stores data ‘in the cloud’ rather than the device itself.

This, in turn, creates a much safer browsing experience for the hundreds of patrons who use the Rossville library for internet access each week, as no personal information is stored on the computer for future patrons to see.

Furthermore, as the name implies, Chromeboxes use Google technology— Chrome is the name of Google’s own internet browser — and programs exclusively. Those using these new computers are encouraged to embrace the full Google experience and use programs such as Google Docs which is similar to the Microsoft Office suite with which most people are familiar.

Rossville was chosen as the target for the pilot program because, it has the highest number of internet users among the system’s four branches.

Though open only 30 open hours per week, administrators estimate the Rossville library will serve 6,835 wired internet users and 890 wireless internet patrons during 2013.

So far, the transition has been a smooth one.

“We had extra staff on hand in case patrons needed our help in the new environment,” Eubanks said. “They hardly needed our assistance that first day.”

The library staff is always ready to assist anyone needing with the new system, she said.

Eubanks is optimistic the transition will be smooth and that an enthusiastic response to the Chromeboxes will bring more good things for the library system.

“If this conversion continues to go well in Rossville, we hope to use computer replacement funds we received from the governor’s fiscal year 2014 budget to put Chromeboxes in the rest of our branches for public computing,” Eubanks said. “We will be receiving $21,000 in October and in addition to buying the Chromeboxes we need to upgrade our printers, monitors and some networking equipment. Utilizing Chromeboxes will allow the money to go further.”