Library Kiosk Computers

The idea behind a kiosk computer is a computer that simply does one task – in most cases serve a web page or pages, but is otherwise locked down so that the user cannot surf away from those pages or make other changes to the machine.  You’ve probably seen kiosk computers in museums, airports, and other places.  They may appear to be a single function computer but the dirty little secret is that underneath, many of them are running Windows.  The program you see is simply a special kiosk program designed to lock the machine down to one task.

If you think you have no need for a kiosk computer, think about how many times you’ve walked up and found that your library catalog computers are not ready for use because someone has closed the web browser or otherwise tampered with the machines.  Kiosk software prevents at least some casual tampering.

We’re fortunate to live in the age of community open-source software, where many people collaborate for the greater good.  If you’re in need of a kiosk solution, I recommend that you check out Open Kiosk

The way to use Open Kiosk is this:

  1. Take a low-end computer (one that is too old for most tasks)
  2. Ideally, reformat the hard drive and re-install Windows (make sure you have the Windows CD or another recovery method first!)
  3. Install Windows updates but no other software.
  4. Install Open Kiosk
  5. Drop a shortcut to Open Kiosk into the Startup folder on your All Programs or All Apps menu.

On first boot, Open Kiosk will let you set an Administrator password and drop you in to the admin console.  From there, simply set your homepage, and define other properties of Open Kiosk, like whether the kiosk should re-set to the homepage after a certain time period, and whether or not Open Kiosk displays the URL address bar.   Set your preferences, quit the program and re-start it and you are ready to go.  Tip: from now on, to get to the admin password prompt, press SHIFT+F1 at any time while the kiosk is running.

For more security, you may need to disable CTRL+ALT+DEL and some other functions via Group Policy in Windows, however we’re not going to cover that here.  In most cases, the casual user lock down security that Open Kiosk provides will be exactly what the doctor ordered.


Sketching your network

I wanted to briefly introduce one of the programs that I recommend in my book to you in this post.  Network Notepad is an icon-based program designed to help you quickly sketch out a map of your computer network and how all of the components are connected.  With Network Notepad, it’s really a simple, three-step process:

  1. Click to select and place icons representing your router, firewall, computers, servers and other hardware.
  2. Right click to define properties of each item to display on the map, such as text title, IP address, and more.
  3. Click to draw lines between the objects, which of course represent the Ethernet connections between devices on your network.

Keep in mind that if the default icons aren’t enough for you, you can download more Cisco Systems icon sets free from the web site  and install them in Network Notepad using these directions.

Network notepad is really a custom application for the task of drawing network maps, and not surprisingly it has a proprietary file format that cannot easily be read by other graphics software.  However, you can install PDFCreator or similar software and quickly print the Network map you create to a Adobe PDF format, which is more universal.

Network notepad is available in both free and paid versions.  You can view both on the Network Notepad web site and determine which one is right for you.

Startup II

After graduate school, a lot of my classmates waited around for jobs because they were determined to break into the field of academic librarianship.  Their whole goal was to become research librarians at a major institution somewhere in the United States or abroad.  I, on the other hand, was newly married and wanted to get as much experience under my belt as possible in a short amount of time.

In the fine tradition of young folks who say “go big or go home,” I answered an advertisement for IT supervisor at a seven-branch, three-county library system in mid-Missouri. I figured I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in heck of getting a callback, but at the time I was shooting out resumes to any organization for any position for which I was even remotely qualified.

Somehow, I got the call for an interview, but I still figured I was a longshot at best.  I went into the interview and, in addition to questions about librarianship, there were questions about managing IT across multiple sites using different types of software programs. What does every person say who is looking to start a career?  I smiled and said, “sure, I can do that!”

Meanwhile I was making a mental note of all the things I needed to research when I got back to my home base (this was pre-smartphone days).  Unbelievably, as I was tying up loose graduate school ends one day, I took a phonecall that would change my life: “Would you like the IT supervisor job?”  My eyes got about as wide as Barney Fife, and I knew I had talked myself in deep, maybe over my head.

On the first day, I walked in, and did my best to begin evaluating the IT situation in the library system.  Speaking gently, it wasn’t the greatest. I followed effectively the methodologies outlined in my book Crash Course in Technology Planning to triage the IT, and then begin repairing what needed to be fixed in a logical order, all the while mapping where I had been and where the library system needed to go.  I only worked for that particular library system for four years, and of course you never get everything accomplished that you intend to accomplish.  But, I did make significant progress towards putting them back on the right track in terms of Information Technology.

The other secret is that I was able to research and teach myself virtually everything that I needed to know.  From physical networking, to repairing desktops, to maintaining Cisco ASA firewalls, everything was learned via research, both online and offline.  Of course, the real thought that I want to leave you with today is that, if I can do it, so can you.  Don’t be afraid of technology.  You can do this, even with little or no formal training, and I for one am here to help you with that goal, having gone through it myself.



To keep things fresh and interesting on this site, I thought that I would start a blog to supplement some of the material in my book Crash Course in Technology Planning.

I’ve almost always had an interest in computers and technology.  My very first computer was an Apple IIc+, which my parents scrimped and saved in order to afford. It was, of course, the family computer, and for a time I just used it to play the educational games such as MECC’s Oregon Trail that were available at the time.

My world changed however, one day when I was digging through the computer cabinet and discovered a pack-in manual for the IIc+ called A Touch of Applesoft BASIC. I suddenly discovered that computers weren’t simply just a device that you wound up and let go to do whatever it was computers did; you actually had control over what the computer did and when and how it did it.  I quickly picked up the BASIC programming language, which stands for Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.  These early text-based versions of BASIC live on today in the descendants such as Visual Basic, which is a common language for writing programs on Windows machines.

The short version is, I was hooked. From then on, whenever a computer was available, I wanted to have my hands in it or on it if at all possible.  In college, I discovered the wonderful world of “junking.”  People would leave computers and parts of computers by the side of the road in the vain hope that the trashman would pick them up.  Usually, a college student such as myself got to them first.  These devices provided me with ample chance to experiment with computers, to assemble and disassemble them, to see what worked and what didn’t.

I was fortunate enough to have friends in college who knew even more about computers than I did; who walked me through the process of making my primary computer dual-boot between Windows and Ubuntu, and simple networking.  I also had one friend in particular who was interested in the inner workings of Windows and would obtain (I don’t know how) pre-release copies of future Windows versions to try out.  I remember specifically previewing Windows Vista (Longhorn at the time) and wondering why anybody would ever move away from XP.

After college, I decided to go to graduate school at the University of Missouri – Columbia.  My other love, besides computers, was research, and so I figured a graduate Information Sciences degree would be a good choice for an undergraduate English major with no real job prospects.  The track I ended up taking was to get the emphasis in Library Science, which is recognized by ALA as effectively a Master of Library Science degree (MLS).

In graduate school, I got the chance to experience some new technologies, such as Apple Mac computers running Bootcamp, which allowed them to run Windows, which is what the majority of the students were used to.  I also took an excellent information sciences class in which the professor spoke at length about both the past and the future of computers and technology.  Knowing that many of us were on the Library Science track, he made specific efforts to point out that computer systems, some we couldn’t even think of yet, were going to be the future of information.  He didn’t insist on the death of the print book but rather pointed out that the delivery mediums were changing.

Part II tomorrow.