MaintainIT Project Gears Up to Support Public Access Computing

I got an e-mail tonight from Franziska Marks, Senior Communications Manager at CompuMentor (and home of TechSoup & the TechSoup NetSquared Initiative), about the newly created MaintainIT Project, promoting sustainable best practices and models of technical support for public libraries. They have just launched their “Share your story” campaign to collect stories on the challenges surrounding keeping public access computers running as well as successes and lessons learned. The information collected will be distilled into a series of how-to guides tailored to the specific technical support needs of different types of public libraries.

Now, it wasn’t so long ago that I was hip-deep in maintaining public access computing resources. From being responsible for some of the first PCs installed to replace public catalog VT320 and VT420 terminals at Miami University in the early 1990s to having stewardship of public and staff computing as the area head for systems at the University of Connecticut, I’ve tried and witnessed a number of technologies to help maintain computers offered for public use. Among the various techniques and technologies were custom Windows shells, the “Deep Freeze” system restorer, the system duplicator “Norton Ghost”, and custom proxy servers to lock down web access. I’ve read about software consolidators like Citrix and Windows Terminal Services and hardware consolidators like Userful’s Multi-Station setup. The end goal has always been to maintain the integrity of the end-user experience from one user to the next by preventing the installation of malicious software and inadvertent (or intentional) “tweaking” of the operating system settings. My experience has always been in large academic libraries with barely enough funding to do the job; I can’t fathom how hard the job is in smaller libraries, public libraries where the resources (both technical and monetary) are not nearly enough.

So my hat goes out to the folks behind the Maintain IT project and I think your’s should too. When I get a chance, I’ll try to dredge up some of my own memories of the trials and triumphs in maintaining public access computers for their Share-Your-Story project, and I encourage you to do the same. Here is more about the Maintain IT project:

The Maintain IT Project is a three-year project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We are working with public libraries to identify best practices of technical support for public access computers (PACs). The Project works with libraries throughout the U.S. and Canada, while focusing on libraries in the 18 states that are receiving the first round of hardware upgrade grants from the Foundation.

MaintainIT is a project of TechSoup, (www.techsoup.org) a nonprofit with extensive experience helping other nonprofits use technology effectively. TechSoup has also worked with community technology centers (CTCs), who provide public access computing programs similar to those in libraries. Techsoup Stock (www.techsoup.org/stock) has distributed over 2.5 million donated and discounted products to nonprofits and public libraries, freeing more than $600 million dollars for other uses.

Best of luck, guys & an admirable task.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/UnitedStates/USLibraryProgram/Grants/default.htm to http://www.gatesfoundation.org/press-releases/Pages/compumentor-library-grant-060621.aspx on January 19th, 2011.

(This post was updated on 06-Nov-2012.)