The patrons loved our AWE computers. Staff, not so much.
First, there was the cost. We paid a lot of money to AWE for a lot of software we didn’t even want. Of the 30-40 games installed on each computer, only about 10 were ever used regularly. And some of those that were used weren’t really great programs. There was “The Cat in the Hat” that made you get through the ENTIRE book backwards or forwards in order to exit the program and start a new game. There was the anatomy game “My Amazing Human Body” that seemed to crash into a black and white pixilated screen whenever a kid used it for more than ten minutes. We wanted to pick our own games for kids to play that were age-appropriate and held up to the heavy usage these computers were receiving.
Another problem was system maintenance. You pay a hefty fee every few years for AWE to service your machines when our IT staff could be doing this in-house if the computers weren’t on lockdown. If this only happened once in a while, it wouldn’t be such a problem. But it seemed like we were sending computers across our system back to AWE constantly, and at one point the Main Library (where the machines were the oldest and most prone to problems) had two of its four AWE computers off to be repaired at once, with one further computer just barely running and in need of a tune-up.
AWE assured us that when we upgraded to the newest version of their product, all of our problems would be fixed. However, we had gotten newer versions of their product before as we added computers at different locations, and we weren’t sold on the idea that “new” meant “better.” We were no longer able to only get a “software only” package and use our own computers to run the software. We would now be required to purchase hardware from AWE as well, and that was a daunting cost with the ongoing maintenance fees we would have to pay as long as we continued to use the product.
Around the time we were contemplating how to pay for the new AWE systems, the Adult Services manager came back from PLA with a brochure from a company called HATCH. They were mostly school-based, but looking to break into the library market. They were offering an all-in-one touch screen computer (AWE was not offering this at the time), which appealed to me because we had experienced theft and vandalism of our keyboards and other peripheral equipment at the Main Library. Their school-based product that we modified can be found here. Also, the HATCH computers allowed you to load your own games and do in-house modifications. Plus, no continuing fees! Once you buy it, they will provide support for as long as you own the units.
We bought one HATCH computer, stripped a lot of the school settings out, and installed some of our own games. Our technology staff did some fiddling to get the computer working the way we wanted, and we were off and running! That first computer worked so well that we decided to buy HATCH computers for all of our branches, including the locations that had never had AWE computers installed.
For the most part, our HATCH experience has been great. It was a little bumpy at first as HATCH representatives learned how different the public library market was from the school market, but the support staff at the company has been really wonderful in helping us figure out what we could do with their product to make it work in our locations. We like that we can have different computer games at different locations. For instance, a game in Spanish is great for our South Lorain branch, but wouldn’t be used at our rural Columbia Branch location. And while we still occasionally have computers crash and we have to reboot, it isn’t nearly as often as the AWE issues, and if it is a particular game that is causing problems we can just delete that one. There is no more sending the computer out to be serviced because our Tech staff can just head out to the branch and troubleshoot the problem there.
We’re still learning how these computers can do more for us, and we’re hoping that HATCH will develop a model specifically for public libraries so we wouldn’t have to take so many of their cool school features off the table. Even more, I hope that more companies will take an interest in the public library computer market and develop more options for us to choose from.Elaine Betting is Youth Services and Outreach Librarian Supervisor with the Lorain Public Library System. ~*~ Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.