Raspberry Pis Sweeten A Library’s Bottom Line

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.

37 thoughts on “Raspberry Pis Sweeten A Library’s Bottom Line

  1. Finally a reasonable application. A non-profit provides equipment for a public entity. Hmmm. Or is it? Reminds me of something…………can’t put my finger on it.

      1. The movie “Brazil”? No, something else. Government grants special privileges to non-profit organization (under the wing of large corporation) if they operate within certain rules. Public institutions use products from organization. No, can’t place it. Tip of the tongue so to speak. Non-profit floods market with millions of under-priced goods and forces crushing changes in pricing and distribution models for hundreds of small businesses? No, something else. It will come to me.

          1. Not sarcastic. It just fits or is close to the definition. Privately held means of production and government dictates what is to be produced and at what cost wither directly or through regulations. Produces a monopoly. Not perfect fit but a lot of the pieces are there. Not a monopoly yest, but Chinese competitors will never keep up with their idea to sell at cost and make up for it off peripherals. It is failing badly. Margins are now so poor that Arrow and other distributor now make their own clones of popular boards – as do Sparkfun and Adafruit – Redboard and Metro in the case of Arduino Uno. They have stayed away from Linux until the community was huge enough that they don’t have to provide support – the killer for small companies. The big distributors can not afford to buy from someone else and add their 40% gross margin. This “little” non-profit venture is shaking up the whole works and killing innovation at the same time. The way of the future I guess. Some predicted open source/open hardware would trend
            this way.

          2. “privately held” != government. It’s only fascism (which should properly be called corporatism according to Mussolini, who would know) when a government calls the shots.

            It’s fine under capitalism for private companies to distort the market. Microsoft wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for getting away with monopolism. All companies reach for monopolism, it’s the most effective way of making a profit. I believe it’s called “competition” or “free market” by capitalists.

            The Pi foundation hardly invented the “loss leader”, although in this case I believe their motivations really are a humanistic attempt to get computers into the hands of everybody possible. They’re still afloat, they’re thriving. They’re making a profit, far as I know. So obviously their prices are OK.

    1. Not like they don’t have off buttons. What a waste. Or at least set up a screensaver that switches them off. Modern monitors recognise some sort of signal to do it.

      I wonder why PSUs don’t come with a through connection for the monitor any more? I suppose it’s to do with PCs never truly being “off” while they’re plugged in. Power button is no longer a power switch, just a suggestion. Annoying!

  2. Raspeberry pis? Not to be negative but why?? Yes I get the low price. But the machines are so slow when running. Factor in all the extra costs cases,etc and it might just be better to get some cheapie used machines that are faster. Could be used or refurbs. Hell even cheap netbooks might be a better use of money from a practical viewpoint. Pis do not make for great desktop pcs. I get price being an issue but youd have to be pretty desperate to use pis like that

    1. Two things: they’re only using these for the catalog system, and it’s been stripped down pretty far from a full OS. Secondly, the RPI2 and RPI3s are actually pretty darn responsive if all you need to do is surf a little. Not a problem at all.

    2. True, a RasPi doesn’t make for a very good desktop computer. But these are kiosks! From what I’ve seen, the worst slowdowns on my Pis have usually been related to multitasking and switching between applications. Given a Pi3 and a properly stripped-down Raspbian image, I don’t think it would be unusable for a single webpage that’s mostly text. Does anyone know if Chromium uses GPU acceleration on the Pi?

    3. Well, the specification is “These machines only need to access our catalog webpage.” – it’s hardly going to be running 50 apps – indeed the desktop is Chromium, there’s no desktop environment loaded. And it’s all documented, so no investigation needed in future: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mp0pvKiWhvd5TblI9TI7PN-fVdwm9IaZNNKPxPyb5UY/edit

      They already had the monitors and keyboards, and so on. But they had multiple kiosks. Keeping these all the same configuration makers sense from a management point of view. So we’re talking a few Pis, a few cases, some cables (they might have had enough to scavenge already) – certainly cheaper than the cost of getting some power hungry old desktop machines from somewhere, and hoping they have the same configuration.

      I wonder how some people thought we browsed the web ten years ago! This Raspberry Pi 3 system is comparable.

      1. You can get Android boxes with all levels of Allwinner parts on eBay or Alibaba dirt cheap and run any distro of Linux or leave the Android. Enclosure, power supply, and all the right connectors. And no personal liability as the producer.

  3. In rural small town libraries that often don’t get tax dollars the library staff wear many hats. I believe many don’t have an IT hat at this level. Not that they are incapable of learning, but there’s not enough time in their day; between Summer children programs and hosting gatherings for the middle aged and senior citizen women crafts programs. How much power in average do sleeping monitors draw?Around here the average effective cost per KWH is $0.12.

  4. Our local library did this last year, with a very similar setup. I’ve had the opportunity to use them a few times, and they’re at least as responsive as the machines they replaced. An employee of the library told me they were much easier to administer, and the power savings are astronomical.

  5. We have a kiosk that has been running for years, Take any machine and put Porteus Kiosk http://porteus-kiosk.org/ on it. Does whitelisting, nav buttons customization and idle time resets from a browser interface. All kiosks can use the same config on different hardware.

    I see the power of older machine for such a simple web browsing might be an issue. Staff just power them down at night and turn it on when they arrive. No fancy shutdowns. If hardware does fails, almost any computer can be swapped in, The cost of a Pi + MicroSD + power, and a case would be over $70. I don’t think the already paid for computer will use that much extra power in its lifespan (4yr service). Unless they run them 24/7 IMHO

    1. Well, electricity is a little over 11 cents per kwh where I live, which works out to a dollar/watt/year for 24/7. So that $20 used desktop that burns 100 watts gets pretty expensive in the long run.

      I have a couple of pis running at home for various projects and they’re burn 3 watts each.

      I think he made a great solution for his library.

  6. How many catalog computers were replaced?
    I have only been in one library with a catalog computer for public and then it was just one.
    If you want to find a book why don’t you just look on the shelf or ask the staff if you want something reserved.

  7. One of my first tech jobs was in a public library, while still in high school. We had VT-100 greenscreen terminals. The ‘paiges’ had to walk through each evening and turn them off, saving who knows how much money a year!

    These raspi solutions must cost like 1/10th the VT-100 cost, if not less!

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