AADL – Study tour 07

Eli Neiburger, head of Information and Administration Services at Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) gave me most of his day to outline the great things that are happening at Ann Arbor. I so want a programmer on our staff. Eli leads the Information Access and Systems team of 9 fulltime staff who provide help desk support (2), programmers (2), ILS (1), systems administration (1), vendor/hardware specialist (1), AV media producer (1) and public training coordinator (1). The AV media producer also has 2 part-time assistants. Check out the flickr photos.

AADL has a reputation for doing great things with gaming, which arose when their Teen Librarian started in 2003 and suggested the idea. They didn’t just want to do a supporting collection and building limitations meant that installing gaming kiosks was difficult, so they chose a different means.

They want to build community with their teens, so their gaming is tournament based. Once a month, they will run a tournament weekend – Friday night is open to all ages, Saturday is teens only and Sunday is either for young kids or is open play again. It is usually held at the start or end of a school break. These tournaments are no different to storytimes, with the same sorts of relationships being developed and is the highlight of the kids relationship with the library, smashing their preconceived ideas of it.

Recreational reading teens are a minority audience. One of their teens has said that their gaming program is “a gateway drug for libraries.” It is not just bait to get teens in to the library and using other resources etc, it is an end in itself.

Out of gaming came the gaming blog, before the first tournaments began. School visits stirred up further interest. So their stats thus far are: 65 gaming events run with about 5000 attending across all events. Their database of gamers has 1000 players, with over 200 unique players last season. They get an average of 40-60 kids to each event, but their biggest tournaments have had 100-120.

As for their website, the previous incarnation had blogging, but was not blog based as it is now. They started planning in January 05 and went live with the website when they launches their new ILS in July 05. They used a graphics design company to design the look and the CSS templates. They also took paper copies of the proposed organisation of the site, to check terminology and structural transparency with their users. The study showed that had the right plan.

They looked at various content management system (CMS) options, limited to those that were php based as that is the development skill they had in-house. John Blyberg (who is now in Darien) brought in Drupal, mainly because of its open API. They now have 50,000 accounts on Drupal, not all are library members. Drupal works as a web interface for their ILS, logs their users in and returns search results. This enables them to use php scripts to do more. Their web server then becomes an application server, bypassing limits of their ILS. Next generation ILS for them may be an open source product, with all their written scripts as the front end.

Any one can blog on the website, with the approval of their manager and after they complete a 1/2 hour training session to ready them. They adapted the Drupal wiki to allow them to easily link to images, catalogue searches and individual items. Their blogs have had 10,000 comments, but over 9,000 of those have been on the gaming blog.

They started their gaming with $5000, buying 8 TVs, 8 Game Cubes, all the controllers, cabling etc, with 8 copies each of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. They also have PS2 and DDR dance pads. They have also run “Retro octathlon” sessions using compilations of old games. Have also started doing huge Pokemon XD tournaments and have Guitar Hero too.

Sessions are run by Eli and some of the IAS staff, with teen staff handling food, answering questions etc. They are also doing some family events and have had a parent/child tourney using Eli’s own Wii console and games. Hoping to get 4 consoles for more such events in the next year.

System staff and some OPACs are Macs, otherwise all machines, including their thin clients which work well, are PCs. Use in house developed software for PC management, which allows unlimited use, unless someone is waiting. The longest anyone has to wait is 10 minutes, minimum booking time is 1/2 hour. They use Pharos for their print management. Their PC training lab uses Macs, but they can open a Windows screen and run the software. They run an IRC channel for their intradesk communications, including inter-branch. No virtual reference service at present, they are examining options with IM.

Their server farm is awesome. They have an OSX server for managing the Mac OPACS and development, 2 ILS servers, a training server running a copy of the ILS, a number of infrastructure boxes, storage boxes, spam firewall in front of the mail server, media server installed but not yet used, a production server, windows file share server, terminal servers, firewall, domain controllers and more file storage. New servers awaiting installation will be used to supplement capacity and migration, for a Pharos update, as a new imaging server for PC images (ie. maintenance not pictures).

They also are starting a public development box – open up their applications and see what people come up with.

They are also starting up with Library Lego League, using Lego Mindstorms Robots. Run over 4 days, the kids build a robot from the kit which has to do a particular task set at the beginning. The champions then play off for the title of Grand Champion.

Eli, it was a great day and I appreciate all the time and effort you gave to my visit. I learned a lot from you and hopefully I will be able to blog about some of what I have been able to get done as a result.