Here’s a great real-world use case for the Pi—a small job for a small computer. [viking–] works in a public library. Like many public libraries, this one has catalog-only terminals that are separate from the computers you reserve to get your fix of cat videos and Bejeweled Blitz. The catalog computers needed to be upgraded, and [viking–] replaced them all with Raspis.
They’re all running Raspbian and boot directly into Chromium with a clean profile every time. The Pis are otherwise completely locked down and accessible only through SSH. A dedicated WiFi network and whitelisted web access help keep them secure. The Pis reboot after five minutes of inactivity which erases all login credentials and bookmarks.
These terminals are scattered throughout the library. Those closest to the front desk have their Pi in a VESA mount on the back of the monitor. The others are locked up in cabinets so they don’t get pinched by the patrons. Library budgets are lean enough already. [viking–] was able to get management sign-off for the project by building a single prototype to show the simplicity of the system and the projected cost savings. Thanks to a couple of cron jobs, the Pis shut the monitors down every night, saving hundreds of dollars per year.
[Phillip Torrone] has started a discussion about a possible upgrade to the public library system in the US and wants to know what you think. His name should be familiar (Hackaday founder, Open Source hardware advocate, and Tron costume model) and he’s definitely got his finger on the pulse of today’s electronics enthusiasts. He poses the question, could we upgrade libraries to become public techshops?
As a frequenter user of my own library system here in Madison, Wisconsin I like to think that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. I find it nice to be able to borrow books, as it seems wasteful to buy a book I will only read once. Sure, I do buy and sell books at the used book store, but that doesn’t diminish how I value the library system and often suggest in posts that our readers should go check out books they’re interested in.
But I must agree with [Mr. Torrone] that, a least to some extent, reserving large buildings to house collections of books may be an outdated concept. It’s not just the books that make the library. These buildings provide computer time and Internet access to the community. I’ve occasionally written posts from public libraries instead of paying the ‘coffee tax’ to get on WiFi in a coffee shop. Libraries also serve as community meeting spaces, and polling places. And what [Phillip] is talking about aims to offset some of the stacks in order to augment the functionality of the institution.
What if it were a repository of knowledge in the written form as well as a place to use tools and learn new skill? It’s an intriguing question and I’m glad he asked it.