Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Planning for Those 'Unknown Unknown' Projects

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Planning for Those 'Unknown Unknown' Projects

Article excerpt

the view from the top left corner

Even when we try to plan for something, it seems like other things always happen first.

What's probably my major eye-roller about libraries is planning. We don't. Oh, we say we do. We have lots of meetings talking about planning to plan, the need to plan, and the consequences of not planning. We even have a lot of paperwork about planning, including, usually, some cool planning documents, appropriately spiced with mission and vision statements, themselves the product of hours of angst per syllable. When you add it all up, the meetings with a few dozen people, the committees, the hallway discussions, and all the consternation, we spend tens of thousands of dollars on planning.

Then when the time comes, we go do something else. This is so true that our computer support planning document now basically says we're going to keep on truckin'. Yup. We're gonna keep on keepin' on, and that's our job. Hidden in this little missive is an implicit part of our job, which is an attempt to keep everyone as much out of trouble as possible while at the same time keeping them from getting too angry at us for doing it. But basically we're trying to give ourselves enough slack so that we have time to do all the things people think of between the time they plan and when it really happens.

To be fair, this is not always somebody's fault. It occurs because, well, things happen. This year we decided we had to do "timeout," which limits patrons to 60 minutes per day. This entailed figuring out how to do it, then visiting each of 150 PCs with significant software changes, a great deal of staff coordination and training, and 4 or 5 months to get everyone on board-some very enthusiastically, and some very reluctantly.

Should we have done this? It's policy. It's politics. It had to be done. It was serious. Meanwhile, what we'd actually planned to do, which was spend some quality time on network security, had to be placed on the back burner while we put out the forest fire impeding our progress. In the case above we dealt with an "unknown unknown." There are those things you know you don't know (thus requiring further research), but there are also things that suddenly come up that you had no idea were going to become issues. Sometimes they are prompted by outside influence, and sometimes they come from within, when someone suddenly thinks of a good idea that would be really nice, if only computer services would do it.

What Was Unplanned: Wi-Fi War Chalking

Such is the case with wireless. We didn't plan for it. We didn't budget for it, but suddenly, it got cheap and viable, and it began to get a buzz. I thought it would be really cool if we could do this, so we spent $300 per branch and put it in. Now we have nine of the 10 advertised "hot spots" in the county, and Starbucks isn't even close. It's getting some good play in the county press. Suddenly we have a new service that was cheap and easy to put in. We talked about it a wee bit in June, but I had no idea we would implement it so quickly. Now it's in our meeting rooms, our public areas, and in some cases, it covers the parking lot.

Wi-Fi: Wireless Fidelity. 802.11b. It just means that your laptop can pick up the Internet from the air, fast. At 11 megabits per second (mbps) it compares favorably with plain old Ethernet at 10 mbps. All you do is place a small firewall-type unit at the end of a Category 5 wire (that's $100), slap on a wireless hub ($200), and you're in business just like that.

A Netgear RT311 handles the firewall and DHCP services. It can farm out dozens of IP addresses on a first-come, first-served basis, then spoof it to a single IP for the network. Wireless users can't see your network, but they can get to Amazon.com or wherever, in the comfort of their own easy chairs. They don't have to stare at small screens shoulder-to-shoulder with the next guy. A guy can spread out at a desk in a corner of the library. …

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