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Technology Boot Camp showcases Georgia-grown talent

GPLS News, June 2015

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Technology Boot Camp showcases Georgia-grown talent
Curtis Spiva, technology librarian for the Mountain Regional Library System, is 3-D scanned by Daniel Zeiger, GPLS system administrator.

In its fifth year, the Georgia Public Library Service Technology Boot Camp continues to sow the seeds for technological advancement and improvements that will enable public libraries to offer instruction, innovation and inspiration -- immediately and in years to come. Held this year at the Unicoi State Lodge in Helen from April 7-9, the boot camp is an electronic menagerie for the technologically inclined library professionals.

IT staff members, digital librarians, directors and administrators from all corners of the state come together each year to take part in three days of tech talk, network nuances, and share the latest tips about hardware and software for libraries.

Emily Almond, GPLS's director of IT, welcomed attendees to the kick-off session, which was followed by daily presentations from attendees, tech vendors and personnel from the state library and Georgia Board of Regents. A record-setting 73 professionals, representing 56 public library systems, attended.

"The boot camp has evolved from a day-and-a-half gathering where tech managers could come learn about emerging technologies into a three-day meeting where a community of practice comes together to share their own expertise in implementation, strategy and management," Almond explained. "In the beginning, we relied mostly on outside experts. Now, many of our own library directors and IT staff have exceeded the knowledge and experience of many of those experts, and they are now teaching courses for each other."

On the camp's first day, sessions were conducted by Cameron Asbell, IT librarian for Statesboro Regional Public Libraries; Alisa Claytor, computer specialist for the Athens Regional Library System; Dyana Costello Banks, training and outreach coordinator for the Mountain Regional Library System; Julia Huprich, director of continuing education for GPLS; Wendy Cobb, library systems administrator and technical services coordinator for the Cherokee Regional Library; Dave Daniels, technology support specialist for the Sara Hightower Regional Library; and Daniel Zeiger, system administrator for GPLS.

"I have attended every camp so far and have always come away energized for tech," said Andrew Tillman, tech specialist at the Lee County Library. "I get program ideas and make helpful contacts across the state, even if it's just for a sympathetic shoulder to cry on."

"The boot camp is filled with informative folks who are ready to share what works for them," said Claytor. "As library employees, none of us have large budgets (for training or equipment). Sharing the latest technology with fellow library techies speaks far louder than reading sales materials or magazine articles."

Sharon Blank, assistant director of the Screven-Jenkins Regional Library System, echoed Claytor's comments. "I had a great time and learned a lot from all the presenters, especially my fellow librarians and library technology specialists."

The parade of homegrown experts continued on the camp's second day, with Almond and Huprich leading sessions. Wendy Cornelisen, assistant state librarian for library innovation and collaboration, and Tamika Strong, IT program manager for GPLS, facilitated another. The GPLS staff members were joined as presenters by Burr Osoinach, digital services librarian for the Cobb County Public Library System; Ali Nabavi, project manager for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System; Michael Casey, division director for IT, and Chris Hall, systems administrator, from the Gwinnett County Public Library; and Scott Martin, IT manager for the Flint River Regional Library System.

Andrew Crane, network engineer for GPLS; Neil Byrd, IT manager for the Hall County Public Library; and Chris Sharp, PINES system administrator, conducted sessions on the camp's final day.

Lucas Shaffer, principal of Shaffer Labs & Stand and Stretch, delivered the camp's keynote address. Also leading sessions were Kyle McDonald, government solutions manager for Google; Charles Ellis, director for Webbased application LibData; Andy Witter, consultant with Emerald Technologies; and a trio of experts from the University System of Georgia and Georgia Board of Regents: Stan Gatewood, chief information security officer; Candice Hall, E-rate analyst; and Dave Nix, network support specialist.

"The agenda was packed with immersive demonstrations and discussions that delved deep into how tech in libraries can be, is and will be used," said Dustin Landrum, library associate with GPLS. "Net neutrality, network security, 3-D printing, mobile computing, the ever-popular Chromeboxes and everything in between were discussed. Or pulled apart and put back together. No RAM was left unspent."

Almond explained that, about three years ago, boot camp organizers and presenters began concentrating on emerging technologies instead of replacing existing infrastructure. "We started broaching topics that would change the way we work instead of just maintaining current models," she said, noting that attendee feedback indicated the desire for more hands-on experiences. "They wanted to be able to build something, try it out, then decide whether to bring it back to their library's staff and users.

"Boot camp has led to our community of practice becoming a year-round resource, as attendees make contact, stay in touch and serve as touchstones of knowledge and support for each other as they continue to try out new ideas after the event itself has ended."

To spur that growth, GPLS has assembled a Tech Loaner Kit that library systems can reserve to use for staff days, patron programming and even mobile programming. Included in the kit are tablets, routers, charging stations, a mobile wireless hot spot, an Internet protocol camera, a Chromecast streaming device, a Chromebook, a Chromebox, near field communication rings, a Raspberry Pi credit-card-sized single-board computer, and a Makey Makey Invention Kit that allows beginners and experts to create art projects, engineering plans and everything in between.

"One of the hard truths about new technology is that gadgets can practically become obsolete after a year," Cornelisen said. "There's always a newer, better version coming out -- just in time for major holidays -- and it's also hard for people to keep up with all the differences between them.

"The Tech Loaner Kits give library staff members across the state the hands-on learning experience they need to help library patrons who come in and ask for help with their new gadgets. Each kit is a self-contained learning adventure, and it lets the library test out new technologies before making any long-term investments for their own community."

Almond explained that the kits come with paper instructions for each piece. "Although lately, the libraries have been improving on our documentation and making their own!" she said. "One system created a set of one-sheet instructions that we are now reproducing for our website.

"Truly, the depth and breadth of what libraries across Georgia can now offer go far beyond computer classes. They're offering STEM programming. They're providing access to mobile computing labs and makerspaces. They're even hosting hackathons for people involved in software and hardware development. And the groundwork for much of this was laid at a Technology Boot Camp, then built upon by the talented library professionals around the state."

To a significant degree, the elements for public libraries' success in bringing technology to Georgia residents were put in place by the General Assembly's allocation of $2 million for computer upgrades in 2014 and again in 2015. "Libraries are good stewards of public funding, and few people are as adept at stretching public dollars as librarians," said Cornelisen.

"Previously," Cornelisen said, "it was not uncommon for patrons to wait in lines to use the library computers or to be limited to a single one-hour session a day -- and it's hard to apply for a job or get the homework help you need with computer access for just one hour at a time.

"The library has always been a place where people can learn whatever they need to -- and for a very long time that knowledge was transmitted through the books on the shelves. While that still remains a powerful option, hands-on learning experiences can boost involvement, retention and understanding.

"That's one reason why more libraries in Georgia are adding new technologies and equipment like 3-D printers to their collections. These offerings provide entire communities with the opportunity to learn how things work and to see how much just-in-time technology can affect their lives. The 3-D printing revolution is having a major impact on manufacturing. There will soon be no more waiting for replacement parts; the car repair shop will just print them out for you.

"Nowadays, change is constant. We need to be ready for the challenge of rethinking every part of our world. Technology Boot Camps play a key role in helping public libraries meet their goal of helping all of us prepare for the future."