BCFL – Doylestown County Library Visit

In order to have some of my technical questions answered I arranged to meet with Shaun Pall, the IT Manager for the Bucks County Free Library (BCFL). When I arrived I was fortunate enough to meet two other members of the IT team as well: Sean Loughlin, Technical Support Specialist and Jason Palmer, Network Support Specialist. They were more than happy to show me around and answer my questions before I met with Shaun.

The Ellison machine has selected dies for cutting paper, fabric and other materials into a variety of shapes for scrap booking, quilting, and other crafts

The Ellison machine has selected dies for cutting paper, fabric and other materials into a variety of shapes for scrap booking, quilting, and other crafts

Sean and Jason very kindly allowed me to take photos and explained a lot of cool IT features the department is working on, which at the time I totally understood but now find really actually went over my head. Nonetheless they were enthusiastic about what they were doing and excited about how they’ve built up the department, services and support they are able to offer. Three years ago the Executive Director and Facilities Director decided to make a clean sweep of the IT Department and brought in a consultant to conduct a transfer of knowledge to Shaun Pall. He then worked to put together a new team and work towards cleaning up and stabilizing the network and computers to build a foundation upon which they would be able to offer some of the cool new technology Sean and Jason were showing me.


The VHS to DVD converter accommodates both VHS and DVD-Ws, translating them into a format viewable on current DVD players. Material is transferred in real time.


The DVD and CD duplicator can produce an exact duplicate of up to five simultaneous copies of a master DVD or CD in less than 10 minutes. Copyright is enforced.


The slide/film/negative converter converts 35 mm, 126 mm, 110 mm, and super 8 film, including color or black and white negatives or slides, to digital format. A library SD card may be used for temporary storage; however, users are expected to bring their own SD cards for permanent storage.

They explained a project the team has been working on recently and are about ready to launch. They’ve been calling it the Start from Scratch program in which staff will replace the software on a ‘dead’ computer with a free open source alternative. By offering this on a trial basis they were able to develop the program into a now regularly offered IT Help Desk. This is expected to be available at most of the branch libraries starting next week. Currently they have one full-time and four part-time staff for this and hope to be able to roll it out to all nine branch libraries soon.

My meeting with Shaun Pall was thoroughly gratifying with lots of great information about the IT Department of which he is rightfully proud. They had recently held their annual Staff Day for all nine branch libraries and Community Public Libraries (CPL) of which there are eleven. This is an opportunity for the IT Department to provide training to staff and where new technology is presented, explained, and explored by all BCFL staff.

I asked Shaun to explain for me exactly how the IT Department interacts with both the member libraries and the CPLs.

All Branch libraries report to the Executive Director and a single Board of Trustees. All the CPLs have their own Library Director and their own board. Some services are shared by everyone but the CPLs have more input about what goes on in their libraries. The CPLs use computers on the BCFL network which all share the same servers, it’s all one network. As for speed at the CPLs, some opted for a fiber connection and like the Branches have the full one gigabyte connection. For some of the CPLs it doesn’t make sense to have the full gigabyte connection because they don’t have that many computers, they’re just too small. Those libraries have broadband with their own internet such as Verizon or Comcast and those communicate to BCFL over the VPN (Virtual Private Network). That goes through a Fortigate box which is secure, faster and easier to manage and maintain. Other services BCFL provides to all libraries are email, the OPAC, and some databases.

There are four servers for all the member and CPLs in the BCFL system.  Here Jason shows me one of them.

There are four servers for all the member and CPLs in the BCFL system. Here Jason shows me one of them.

Filtering is provided through Watchguard network security which also provides the firewall and content filtering, all in one piece of equipment. “This keeps bandwidth just that much better across the board”, Shaun explained. It also works to help trim the IT budget, “why pay for two when you can pay for one and add the extra subscription”, he said.

On the libraries several public access computers (I forgot to count but you can see from IMG_1039the photo there are many PCs and a table of four Macs) after 30 seconds of no activity the screen saver comes on and the computer will log off. Every patron logs in as a temporary profile so when they log off it’s cleaned. For the catalog computers, when the screen saver comes on it clears the history and is set up so that after every session it’s wiped clean. When a session ends it logs out and then logs back in a IMG_1050completely new profile all over again.

I asked about ergonomics and assistive technology and once again learned that there’s never really been much need for it. Shaun mentioned that there’s some built in with Adobe Reader, Microsoft and Apple and currently they’re looking into easy read keyboards with a big black and yellow keyboard. He said he’s worked with Dragon at other libraries but it was very rarely used, maybe by only one person. It’s really not worth the investment to purchase and have on hand with the hope that it’s not on a computer in use when someone else needs the program. It’s also not reasonable to just keep that computer open because it has an accessibility program on in or to ask a patron to end their session because another needs to access the program. Accessibility is really something that can be handled right away as needed, just not something to invest in to have on hand

Tablets safely embedded in a double desk for use in the children's section.  Pre-loaded with educational games.

Tablets safely embedded in a double desk for use in the children’s section. Pre-loaded with educational games.

As for staff nobody ever asks for it, though one staff member uses a standing desk and the circulation desk has padded mats to stand on. It’s really just handled on a case-by-case basis, there’s nothing available across the board for staff.

As you can imagine the budget for the IT Department is quite large and though Shaun wasn’t sure what percentage of the entire BCFL budget was specifically dedicated for IT, he did say it was adequate for their needs. Their main focus over these last three years has been to streamline and trim the IT budget in order to provide current technology for patrons. To this end he has found open source alternatives when possible along with ways to combine services such as the Watchguard fire wall and filter. Also they switched to Office 365  which is free to libraries and schools so now they’re not paying for Microsoft licensing or Exchange email. Nothing is outsourced because there is such a good support team in the IT Department. It also helps that they are able to get a non-profit discount!

Shaun has been working in IT for libraries for nine years so when I asked him about changes he’s observed over recent years he was able to provide a very thoughtful and astute answer. “Hardware wise it’s about what you would expect” he said. “things are faster, bigger, better, and have more storage. It’s really a constant more or less. The real change I think is more on the staff side the demand and need for staff to be technologically competent and to answer technical questions that are coming through the door. It’s not just for the staff to know where the books are, how to find where the books are; they need to know general knowledge. It’s more the expectation that they are equivalent to Google and if they don’t know it they should know how to find it”.

Wireless has been the biggest change in these last nine years, he explained, adding wireless connectivity in response to all the mobile devices people use. “You can see the shift now from what used to be lap tops, now that’s dropping off and now it’s tablets and phones”. Now they’re providing fewer tables and more tables with stands, as well as space to hold a business meeting or for Skyping. The demand for space is driven by the technology in a way that’s different than it used to be and it’s amazing to watch that shift.

IMG_1056Shaun took me out into the IT main office to show me the Meraki system (see photo) . They don’t collect any personal data but they can tell what devices are connecting into their network in a general sense. They can actually see in a pie chart how many phones, how many lap tops, how many tablets are on their wireless network at any time or over a one month period.  Each marker represents one of their system libraries, if the marker turns yellow from green – they know the connection is down and they can attend to it right away.

Towards the end of our conversation Shaun took me upstairs to a conference room to show me one of their latest technology acquisitions. It’s currently in use at the Yardley Branch and they’re looking into expanding it into others. What he showed me is like a smart screen, a touch screen projector, but there’s nothing for people to break or mark up, it’s just right on the wall and completely interactive. Right now they have a kid’s game on it and it’s been immensely popular.

In all our conversation one of the most amazing new technologies the IT Department is looking into is One Button Studio. Designed by Penn State University this program is basically, “A room with a camera, projector, microphones, and lights. You come in with a flash drive, you plug it into a USB port, and push a button. The lights turn on, the camera starts recording, you stand in front of the wall and you start doing whatever you want to do. There’s a computer where you can set up a slide show to run behind you over your shoulder. When you’re done you push the button, it stops recording, you take your flash drive over to a Mac and you can edit it right there in the library. So you can come in and by yourself and you can do a full video recording”. How cool is that?!

Shaun is proud about what the library is doing. The IT Department has worked hard these last three years and now have the foundation in place to do the fun stuff. These guys clearly are excited about what there is to offer and about making sure it all runs smoothly. Though Shaun, Sean and Jason are all IT guys they are truly invested in the library environment and helping shape the future for BCFL.

Thanks guys – for sharing your time with me and helping me understand a little bit more on what the future of libraries has to offer.

Bucks County Free Library, District Library

150 S. Pine Street
Doylestown, PA 18901-4932


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New Hope-Solebury Library Visit

On Wednesday, October 28th I had the pleasure of sitting down with Connie Hillman, MLIS the Library Director at The Free Library of New Hope & Solebury which is construction sitetemporarily located at St. Martin of Tours School, 1 Riverstone Circle, New Hope, PA 18938. The library is undergoing a much needed construction renovation project at its usual location of 93 W. Ferry Street in New Hope , a 150 year old former church.

I started out by asking Connie about the library’s Kindle Borrowing Program and how they came to choose the Kindle over other E-Readers. I was also interested in how they funded and maintain the program. Connie explained that it’s been in place for about one year and that initially she saw it as an experimental program, dependent on how the community responded to it. They chose the Kindle because at the time it was emerging as the key reader of choice and fit in with the ‘Library on Demand’ concept she developed based on the community’s interest in the program. The library has an account with Amazon and will download whatever they want ‘on demand’ and will then own it outright. “If someone comes in and they want a book they can’t get anywhere else and they can’t wait for it then we’ll download it and let them borrow the Kindle”. This often works out to the library’s advantage because many times other patrons are interested in the same book and it becomes worth the library’s investment. As for funding Connie says they have generously been given and endowment that was originally intended to be spent solely on classics, but there are only so many classics you can purchase over time. The donor graciously allowed them to expand the parameters and the Kindle program became part of this. Generally patrons prefer to make use of Axis 360 or Overdrive but there is enough interest in the five Kindles available that the program is definitely a successful one.

LaunchPadFor younger patrons New Hope-Solebury (NH-S) offers two different but compatible tech devices. One is a hand-held, durable tablet, pre-loaded with educational games for pre-school through elementary age children. According to their website , the Launch Pad is geared specifically for library circulation, starts at $99, is 100% secure with no risk of exposure to unintended content, and is always ‘shelf ready’ with a one-touch reset AWE

The second is the Early Literacy Station™ (ELS) developed by AWE which is a child friendly lap top computer “designed specifically for children ages 2-8 and features over 4,000 localized learning activities. The fun, interactive and engaging content spans all seven curricular areas: math, science & nature, social studies & geography, reading, art & music, writing & computer skills, and reference”.

One of the reasons I chose NH-S for this project is because they have a 3-D printer. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see it in action or some of the other technical offerings at the library. Due to their relocation many of these items were temporarily in storage. stacks and office areaHowever I was able to learn that while NH-S initially purchased the 3-D printer with the intent to use it as a learning tool for children the biggest users were in fact adults, particularly retired draftsmen and architects. While the kids like to see the pre-programed scans develop quickly, the adults have the patience and truly enjoy the process of watching their original designs take shape. The library also decided not to charge for printing but to ask for a donation and Connie says they may be doing better than if they had charged because people like the experience so much.

This led me to my next area of questioning regarding the technology budget for the library. Connie said it’s not a big one since they get most of their technical support from the County, it basically just covers hardware. For example while the County supplies links to many on-line resources such as Access 360, Zinio and Hoopla it does not provide Freegal. If NH-S wanted access to this service they would have to pay separately, directly out of their own budget. Also, while they did get a grant for the 3-D printer they did need to purchase the software and filament to go along with it.stacks

Staff at NH-S strive to stay abreast of technology which is generally povided by the County or directly through the applications they subscribe with refresher courses and updates. As for patrons need for training Connie says people mainly ask for tech help only when they have problems as in ‘why doesn’t this work anymore’ rather than how to work a specific device. Once they get set-up with passwords and work out any initial kinks they seem pretty good to go.

As for privacy and security, once again security, firewalls and maintenance are all provided by the county. NH-S maintains a policy that all computers are shut down at night which erases everything even if they save it to the doc file, it goes away too. They also encourage all patrons to close out their session on the computers, not to just exit out. People do come in with their own laptops to utilize the free Wi-Fi and these are not filtered so there could be issues regarding what they access. Even though it’s their own private computer they are in a public building and as such would be asked to leave if anything the accessed was considered offensive to another patron.

Childrens areaI was curious about accessibility and ergonomics in the library, especially considering they were renovating. Connie noted that they are able to provide wheelchair accessibility and workstations as needed but they don’t have any specific equipment for blind or deaf patrons. However these are resources they would provide if necessary and could even borrow from another library. It’s never been an issue that she can remember.

As far as ergonomics and the newly renovated library space, Connie is very excited. Wiring was very bad in the old building so they are getting all new wiring installed. There will be computer outlets all over the place which will allow them “to keep moving forward because otherwise it’s just not worth it”. She said the thought was to put the workstations by the windows and have the wiring be flexible to accommodate for growth. While the four computer workstations they have seem sufficient it’s the space for laptops and the ability to plug in that has grown, and will continue to do so.

“So much depends on the community that your library is in” Connie told me, the community really decides what you offer and what you don’t. NH-S is fortunate that over half their operating budget is funded by the generous donations of their patrons and which has allowed them to renovate and prepare for future technology.

So, it looks like there’s a visit to the County Library in Doylestown in my near future.Doylestown-2501 Seeing as my technical inquires yielded the fact that most of the support comes from the County, who actually pay for the connectivity at NH-S and all branch member libraries as well as those system member libraries that elect to participate, it’s there I must go next.

Stay tuned!

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Potential Questions

I noticed that you have a Kindle Borrowing Program. How did you come to choose the Kindle over other types of E-Readers?AJ-Books-2

How many do you have and how frequently are the requested?

Are patrons more interested in borrowing Kindles or making use of Axis 360 or Overdrive?

How comfortable are patrons using the Kindle? Do you find you need to provide training?

Did you need to write a proposal for funding and if so did library staff write it or did you outsource that?

What other types of technology are available for patrons and staff:

Copy Machine       Tablets          Printers:             Color                 B/W                   3D

Fax      Lap Tops         Launch Pad

Do you find there is a need to educate patrons about other types of technology and at what level?

Tell me about Launch Pad – I gather it’s for children?

What is the policy on checking out the Kindles and other technical equipment?

Are there any other fees related to use of technical equipment other than the .20 per page charged for printing?

Who is your Internet Service Provider (ISP)?

What type of internet connection do you have? (Dial-up, analog or broadband)

What is the speed of your connection?
(Mbps – Megabits per second – home average is 4 – 6, public networks 15 – 50 or higher)

I know you offer wireless for patrons to access if they have a Bucks County Library Card and a PIN. Do you employ fire walls or antivirus programs?

Do you use any filtering programs and do you allow any patrons through to the open internet?

Do you accept E-funding?

What methods do you use besides filtering to comply with CIPA (Children’s Internet and Protection Act)?

How do you address the issue of privacy in connection with technology?

Do you have an Acceptable use Policy (AUP)?

Are patrons allowed to bring in their own thumb drives or other USB devices for use on the libraries computers?

How many computers workstations are available for patrons?
For Staff?

Are any of the work stations wheelchair accessible?

What about technical accessibility, assisted technology and ergonomics, do you offer trackballs, magnifiers, sound enhancement or other options?

What type of software is available for use on the computers?
For staff:
For patrons:

Does the library use Cloud based services?

Where is information stored? What service do you use?

Who on staff manages technology including web page, social networking and hardware?

Is this same person responsible for maintenance and repairs?

Do you have contract agreements with the providers for repair of equipment such as copy or fax machines?

What percentage of your budget is allocated for technology?

What is the breakdown, if any, for hardware, database subscriptions, software, etc.

Does staff undergo regular training to stay up-to-date with technology?

How about on how to maintain and trouble shoot technology?

I understand that you are expanding – how have you accounted for technological growth, the notion of maker spaces and ergonomics with this new construction?

What changes have you seen directly impacted by technology over the last year? The last five years?

Has there been a greater demand for technology equipment?

Has there been a greater need for technical knowledge by the staff?

I notice you offer proctoring which is interesting and has nothing to do with technology but I’m interested in how you came to the decision to offer it?

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Try, try again…

Well it’s been a busy few days since I last posted.

I heard back from Newtown Friends School who unfortunately explained that “for what you’re looking for we may not be the right place to visit.  Since the spring of 2008, when our full-time librarian retired, we have shifted directions in the way we look at technology.  The Library is not the focus, nor does it drive any of the decisions surrounding technology.  As it comes to technology decisions, we base those decisions on the needs of the curriculum and how they benefit our teachers and students.  We want the curriculum to drive the technology needs.”

So it appeared that NFS was out and I began a search for another library finally settling on the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library. I reached out by phone this time and was told they needed to consult with the Library Director. A few days later I received an email response, “Unfortunately, I don’t think our library would be a very good example given our structure, we are a public library that is privately funded by the Grundy Foundation. Our technology budget is part of the overall Foundation budget and is not readily shared outside the organization”.


The problem here is that most of the libraries where I live are all connected. The Bucks County Free Library (BCFL) System is a seven-BRANCH county library system collectively governed by a 7-member board appointed by the County Commissioners.

As a designated Pennsylvania public library district and system, BCFL collaborates on county wide projects, shares a public catalog, and provides support services to 11 additional public libraries in Bucks County known as SYSTEM MEMBER LIBRARIES. These libraries are independently governed and managed by their own local boards and directors. However some of their financial and most of their technological support come from BCFL.

My intention was to find an independent library with a technology program and budget specifically for that library. Oh well, best laid plans and all that…

I’ve reachedNew-Hope-Solebury-250 out to The Free Library of New Hope and Solebury, which is one of the System Member Libraries in the BCFL system. I picked them specifically because they have a 3-D printer and they are within easy driving distance. I was able to get an appointment right away with the Library Director, Connie Hillman, MLIS. Very excited!!

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Initial Email to Newtown Friends School

I sent out an initial email request to meet with Thomas Carroll the Director of Technology Services at the Newtown Friends School.  I’m anxiously awaiting his response.



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